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Mobile Phones To Fill Poor Nations' Healthcare Gap?

samzenpus posted more than 5 years ago | from the can-you-cure-me-now dept.

Medicine 52

Ian Lamont writes "The Industry Standard has reported on a couple of projects that aim to turn the humble mobile phone into a tool that can improve healthcare systems in the developing world. While poor countries lack adequate healthcare facilities, many have booming mobile phone use, even in rural areas. One company spawned by the MIT Media Lab seeks to leverage widespread mobile phone use with a Java app that lets community workers refer patients for treatment, fill out questionnaires about patient health and send real-time information back to doctors at health clinics. Another hardware-focused project started by a group of researchers at UCLA aims to create a device that can be attached to mobile phones and test blood samples for HIV, malaria, and other diseases, and send the test results to a hospital. However, it's not clear whether most mobile phones in developing countries can support these technologies, or if local healthcare infrastructures can effectively use the data generated by mobile phones."

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52 comments

Mobile Phones? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26367077)

I was sweating the other day and I noticed that my armpit smelled like my girlfriend's vagina. In a moment of clarity I realized that I had no girlfriend and had been performing cunnilingus on my own armpit all these years.

Re:Mobile Phones? (1)

Francais Troll (1442059) | more than 5 years ago | (#26367127)

Babelfish et Google Translate sont tous les deux mauvais. Il a été un honneur pour moi d'avoir perdu votre temps. Sucer mon coq.

Re:Mobile Phones? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26367169)

I was sweating the other day and I noticed that my armpit smelled like my girlfriend's vagina. In a moment of clarity I realized that I had no girlfriend and had been performing cunnilingus on my own armpit all these years.

It's lonely being sane, isn't it?

Sounds Good (3, Funny)

AnonGCB (1398517) | more than 5 years ago | (#26367099)

Once you get mobile phones into the hands of average people, along with the test kits. Then there's the danger of people sharing the devices and transmitting diseases from one to another. I think I would rather get to a hospital, where it could be done right.

Forget the third world, has uses here (1)

Cryacin (657549) | more than 5 years ago | (#26367535)

Think about convenient STD tests... not for you, but for proposed partners...

Re:Sounds Good (1)

plover (150551) | more than 5 years ago | (#26368251)

Once you get mobile phones into the hands of average people, along with the test kits. Then there's the danger of people sharing the devices and transmitting diseases from one to another. I think I would rather get to a hospital, where it could be done right.

And as a resident of a First World country, and wealthy enough to afford a computer and an internet connection, we may think a hospital is always an option. But in too many places, it is not.

One step at a time. Get them some handheld tools now, build a hospital later. It's better than waiting around for some millionaire to decide your village is worthy of his donation of a hospital, because those just don't happen as often as everyone would like.

Re:Sounds Good (1)

AnonGCB (1398517) | more than 5 years ago | (#26368363)

Good point, but if people are funding all these addons to cell phones, development and whatnot, couldn't they build a hospital for that much money? Then again not as many people can make the trip. Bot have pros and cons, guess I'll see how this plays out.

Re:Sounds Good (3, Interesting)

mabhatter654 (561290) | more than 5 years ago | (#26368757)

Sad to say many, many places in the USA up to the 1950's only got hospitals if somebody rich built them or a church society founded them. That's why so many have big names or Saint.. attached to them, even ones that are now "public".

Re:Sounds Good (1)

ThosLives (686517) | more than 5 years ago | (#26370373)

Yes, but here's this key quote from the summary:

However, it's not clear whether most mobile phones in developing countries can support these technologies, or if local healthcare infrastructures can effectively use the data generated by mobile phones.

These "devices" simply collect data; they don't administer treatment or make diagnoses. Speeding up the diagnosis is indeed helpful, but if there's no infrastructure to use that information the information is pretty useless. Consider the blueprints to a car - they don't help me get from point A to point B unless I have a factory and materials and labor to construct the vehicle.

Like others, I'd rather see money spent on infrastructure as well as these other catalytic technologies. I use that word quite purposefully too: just like a catalyst, this mobile technology requires reagents on which to act; otherwise it sits inert.

Re:Sounds Good (1)

davester666 (731373) | more than 5 years ago | (#26377647)

This is just a cheaper way for you to diagnose yourself. You surf medical sites on the internet for information about the symptoms you can tell you have, and then just take the medication for all the diseases you find.

It's cheaper for the end-user, while they still get to pay for their "care", and nobody is responsible when they die.

which poor nations (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26367161)

Poor nations like the US? Worst health care ever and highest debts any country in the world ever had?

Re:which poor nations (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26367291)

This just in from my Twitter feed:

"The buboes are worsening, and the rats still look hungry! Oh noes!"

Re:which poor nations (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26367525)

If the health care is so bad, why do people from other countries come here for it?

Re:which poor nations (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26367571)

They don't. That, or they're terribly, terribly ill-informed in regards to the United States' healthcare system. Not that there aren't good reasons to come here, but that definitely isn't one of them.

Re:which poor nations (3, Insightful)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 5 years ago | (#26367913)

"Healthcare" isn't really a unitary phenomenon.

High-end American healthcare? Quite probably the best, no big surprise that people would come for that, if they can afford it.

Average American healthcare? Not bad at all, definitely first world; but, per dollar spent, surprisingly sucky.

Lower than average American healthcare? Pretty unexciting. The number of uninsured people who get to let their chronic and/or preventable conditions fester until they are severe enough for the ER is bad news.

That's the thing: America has some of the best healthcare available; but that care isn't widely available, and the lower tiers fall off rather sharply, especially when you account for things beyond immediate medical outcomes(be cured is nice, not becoming homeless in the process, though, would also be nice). It's actually pretty similar to our educational system. Our best is really, really good; but we manage to pay extraordinary amounts for mediocrity or worse, as well.

Re:which poor nations (1)

mspohr (589790) | more than 5 years ago | (#26368957)

Actually, there are many signs that even our 'high-end' health care is not good for you. The US tends to be very focused on performing procedures (surgery, diagnostic procedures, etc.) since these are reimbursed at absurdly disproportionate rates. (Thousands of dollars per hour).

Unfortunately, many of these procedures are harmful, causing more damage than they prevent. For instance, cardiac catheterization for diagnosis and stent placement (to treat heart disease) has not been shown to provide any long term benefit to patients but it does cause lots of complications (direct morbidity and mortality). The result is very high cost care that actually damages health.

Re:which poor nations (1)

Idiomatick (976696) | more than 5 years ago | (#26374181)

Average healthcare in the US is just in 1st world. Healthcare for the poor uninsured is bordering on somalia.

Good Premise (1)

maz2331 (1104901) | more than 5 years ago | (#26367187)

The premise is sound enough. Using the communications infrastructure (phones, data communications) to connect distant experts to remote people in need is a great idea.

In many situations, it can actually alleviate a sort of utilization issue, where those with the need are too far from those with "the know" for the necessary information to flow between them.

I think a lot of people want to find a way to bring US or European-standard care to others in the backwoods of Africa, but do so instantly. That won't happen due to multiple reasons. Still, any improvement to the current situation is to be encouraged.

Hopefully, we won't shoot down something that could be helpful in pursuit of "perfection".

Tricorder (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26367217)

Why don't they just send them tricorders?

Re:Tricorder (2, Insightful)

zappepcs (820751) | more than 5 years ago | (#26367885)

Funny enough, previous discussions on this topic took exactly that form. Cellular phones with test kit additions to make field labs for common tests is a fair assessment of a pre-beta tricorder. One of the fantastic things about such devices is that while many developing countries might afford cellular infrastructure, they won't devote huge sums of money for a clinic than can only be reached by foot, and then only after 2+ hours of walking. This would put a big knowledge base and reasonable field testing in quick reach of such places. IMO it is an altogether superior answer to the problem. Further development of the field test kits will only improve medical care for those who have historically been too far in the boonies for any to get to them.

Imagine someone who is 4 hours away from a road, never mind a clinic getting advice from a Boston specialist? I think that is awesome! If they can do it cheap enough for developing countries, perhaps it will catch on in the US. That would cut waiting times, costs, and probably revive better parts of common medical care giving.

Re:Tricorder (2, Insightful)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 5 years ago | (#26368149)

Imagine someone who is 4 hours away from a road, never mind a clinic getting advice from a Boston specialist?

You can do that without your pre-beta tricorder. That, after all, is what a cell phone does - allow you to talk to people. But the whole premise of this "test" system is a bit stupid. Rural third world clinics don't need advanced diagnostic testing - they need simple treatment protocols and equipment.

Malaria can be diagnosed clinically, so can AIDS. HIV infection not so much, but if you're out in the middle-of-fucking-nowhere Africa you don't have access to antiretrovirals. You need a condom. Current HIV antibody tests are pretty damned simple - they use the same basic technology that home pregnancy tests use and can be dragged anywhere on the planet. They're just (relatively) expensive.

It's a ding-bat high tech way to make somebody feel better (and some bucks on the side) without doing much of anything. I'm beginning to wonder about MIT. They seem to have an odd way of trying to help the so-called third world - the OLPC comes to mind. And this. What the third world needs is a way to get some basic government in place that won't simultaneously rape the populace and the environment. The rest is pretty easy.

I'm dissapointed (2, Funny)

Idiomatick (976696) | more than 5 years ago | (#26367251)

How is this not tagged tricorder yet? For shame /.

Re:I'm dissapointed (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26368831)

...visualizing little nanotech guy holding flashlight and cell phone/cam up inside somebody...

Can you hear me now??

Profit (1)

pintpusher (854001) | more than 5 years ago | (#26367349)

FTFA:

Dimagi, a for-profit company started by MIT Media Lab alums, plans to release a new mobile application called CommCare within the next two months.

I stopped reading there. The last thing countries with poor healthcare need is a for-profit companies trying to make a buck off the fact that they have poor healthcare.

The whole profit-from-other's sickness just... well... sickens me.

Now, I'm not saying that medical workers shouldn't make a great living helping people. I have a problem with *corporations* making money on top of that. It's a crime, IMO, that the healthcare industry is so profitable while people are dying from a lack of healthcare. No, I have no citation, it's just how I feel.

Re:Profit (1)

timmarhy (659436) | more than 5 years ago | (#26367623)

People hate corporations for the same reason as they have road rage - it's a faceless entity. only that's a retarded knee jerk reaction because it's NOT faceless, there are people behind it. yes medical staff deserve great remuneration for their years of study and effort, doing it on the cheap won't cut it. if you can't attract the people, how will you create new drugs or technical break throughs?

Re:Profit (1)

pintpusher (854001) | more than 5 years ago | (#26367761)

I don't necessarily hate corporations (considering that I own a couple of small ones), though I have real issue with the corporation-as-person legal situation and the problems that come with it. But that is beside the point.

Over the past few years, I've been developing this idea (making it no longer a knee-jerk reaction) that for-profit medicine is inherently evil.

I don't have any answers, by a long shot, just a strong feeling that the current system is wrong at a fundamental level. The idea that some stockholder gets nice fat returns on investment; the CEO and other TLA's at the top of a medical corp get big fat paychecks; and there is a convoluted, insanely top-heavy bureaucracy managing all the paperwork turns my stomach. That all costs money, and lots of it, that could be better spent actually delivering, instead of managing and profiting from, healthcare.

The big difficulty is how do you spur development and innovation in medicine without the profit potential as a carrot. I suppose that this is one possible useful place for government (shudder) involvement. Government funded medical research, while probably horribly wasteful, might be on a par with the systemic costs of our for-profit system, but without the long-term continued costs of providing profits. In a better case scenario, since the gov't already spends a lot in this regard, it may actually be cheaper than the current system, but that's only a supposition.

I suppose I'm a luddite in this regard. I'd like the doctor to come along in his buggy and fix-up the kids in exchange for a couple of hot meals and maybe a chicken or two.

Re:Profit (1)

Ian Alexander (997430) | more than 5 years ago | (#26367819)

So how should medical workers get their hands on useful tech? Test kits don't assemble themselves ya know and people generally want compensation for their time.

I'm broadly in agreement with you, I think a lot of companies in healthcare do slimy shit (I'm looking at you, insurance companies)... but that doesn't mean making a reasonable profit and not being slimy are mutually exclusive. I mean, c'mon, you don't even know how much they're going to ask for the application and you're already calling them bloodsucking leeches.

That said, I'm quite open to the possibility of them trying to milk the product for all they can. It happens. I just don't think it's fair to cry foul before they've even done anything.

Re:Profit (1)

pintpusher (854001) | more than 5 years ago | (#26367937)

Like I said, I'm all in favor of healthcare workers being well compensated. That includes those who make medical devices or deliver medical goods or perform services in any other part of the system. Also, it is not my intention to call foul on this particular development. Rather, it brought to mind my personal dislike of the whole system.

One question I have is: what is a reasonable profit? Is it reasonable if the cost to the sick is such that 10 people can't afford it and face continued sickness, injury or death? 100 people? 1000? etc etc. Don't think I'm trying to be alarmist stating it that way. I just don't really know any other way to put it. Likewise, I have no problem with colgate making a tidy profit from toothpaste.

It's a nasty problem. Essentially, I think there is something deeply flawed in our for-profit healthcare system (speaking as a USIAN here, BTW).

I have no answers though. Maybe someone else does.

Re:Profit (1)

techno-vampire (666512) | more than 5 years ago | (#26368197)

Is it reasonable if the cost to the sick is such that 10 people can't afford it and face continued sickness, injury or death?

No matter how little it costs there will be some people who won't be able to afford it, unless it's free. Is it worth it if 100,000 people who couldn't reach a clinic can afford it but 100 homeless people can't? If not, why not?

Re:Profit (1)

Creepy Crawler (680178) | more than 5 years ago | (#26368265)

---I stopped reading there. The last thing countries with poor healthcare need is a for-profit companies trying to make a buck off the fact that they have poor healthcare.

Well, why not? That's industry that is moving and bolstering a new area that had little to no influence on global economy. That only means that money will be traveling there in one form or another. And donation of healthcare or goods or money will do little to no good. We can see what the Africans say about hand-outs and gimmees here [globalenvision.org]. They argue that money donations go to dictators, and items (like clothing) kill the fledging businesses by dumping, en masse, products that they are trying to make a living with. Add this to overall corruption, and... it's hard to say that they dont deserve the fate they dig themselves into (and we help).

---The whole profit-from-other's sickness just... well... sickens me.

Those countries that chose socialized medicine, along with the idea that medicine shoudnt be a profit center are seeing a lack of doctors, nurses, newest equipment, up to date procedures, and other people and equipment. They also have problems of financing so many arent even solvent unless the government kicks in more money. And, after this, many countries pay upwards 20% GDP for this.

And socialized medicine fails to take in to account: services paid for services rendered. These are resources that are taken up, time used with specialists and wear'n'tear on machines that border in the millions. And break up the AMA and allow any school to teach MDs. We dont need a bunch of protectionist doctors telling how many others can be one. The bad ones will hurt somebody and get raked over the coals.

It would be logical that new==expensive and old==cheap(ish), just like every other industry has done, but that is not true with the medical industry. Well, why not? Government interference. We pile on more and more crud so that these costs have a minimum bound that is already very high. Then we add on insane judgments of pain and suffering that require major insurance. In fact, many doctors are getting out of places like prenatal due to these very reasons.

You have a problem with profit: I have a problem with governmental waste. Stop the government from creating insane requirements and bottom lines will come down

---Now, I'm not saying that medical workers shouldn't make a great living helping people. I have a problem with *corporations* making money on top of that. It's a crime, IMO, that the healthcare industry is so profitable while people are dying from a lack of healthcare. No, I have no citation, it's just how I feel.

People die. There's no stopping that for now, so we can throw all the money in the world, and have a machine-breathing, IV nutrient line, feeding tube husk that is biologically living, but maintains no consciousness. That isnt right, but where do we cross those lines? Messy answer, but the only answer now is "You can keep them alive as long as you have the money for it." And in the end, they still die.

Re:Profit (1)

u38cg (607297) | more than 5 years ago | (#26369985)

Sorry, pal, but you're so far off the map it isn't even funny. We all need to eat, but most countries haven't banned making money off selling food yet.

fuck A nigga (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26367489)

Re:fuck A nigga (1)

cbiltcliffe (186293) | more than 5 years ago | (#26367653)

This crap has got to be a bot. It makes less sense than most of the penis enlargement image spam I get.....

You are a chuilde of SATAN (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26367543)

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Convergence? (4, Insightful)

cbiltcliffe (186293) | more than 5 years ago | (#26367705)

I've heard of convergence, but I think this is taking it a little far. Why do companies that want to design a device, function, whatever, always immediately think "Let's make a mobile phone that does that!!"

What the hell makes you think a cellphone would make a good mobile health lab? One person with HIV or malaria is going to get one of these, test themselves, not clean it properly, then infect the rest of the village as they run around testing everybody else.
Most places needing this type of testing won't even have clean water, much less an autoclave, which is what you really need to properly sterilize any medical equipment like this.

Here's an idea:
Rather than making it a cellphone attachment, build a small device, the size of a big toolbox, or a bit bigger, that will do what's needed. Put a decent battery in it, solar panels and a wind generator, and a small autoclave. Make it as automated as possible.
Bingo. Renewable energy powered, clean and safe health testing for a village. Then, you can use the power and heat capabilities of this thing to boil water, and get non-malaria-infected water for these people to drink, too.

Try that with a cellphone.

Morons.

Re:Convergence? (1)

techno-vampire (666512) | more than 5 years ago | (#26368213)

I don't know where you're getting the idea that the phone is part of the testing equipment. Like any good Slashdotter, I haven't RTFA, but I get the impression that the Java applet would be used to transmit the results to the hospital and allow a doctor, nurse or paramedic to give further instructions or advice based on the results.

Re:Convergence? (1)

cbiltcliffe (186293) | more than 5 years ago | (#26368317)

No, I'm not talking about the first one. I'm talking about the hardware one that's mentioned second.

FTFA (I know...you haven't read it):

developed a prototype for a lens-free device, small enough to fit into a cell phone, that can count cell types in a cell solution. By counting cell types, the device can determine whether a patient might have HIV, malaria or other medical conditions.
-----snip-----
The lens-free technique Ozcan is using is called LUCAS
-----snip-----
Ozcan pictures a world where people will be able to draw a tiny blood simple, place it on a chip the size of a quarter and insert it into a LUCAS-equipped cell phone. The phone would then be able to count cells and wirelessly send the results to a hospital.

A Java app on a phone to do referrals and stuff like that makes at least a modicum of sense. This blood analysis phone device is moronic.

Re:Convergence? (1)

techno-vampire (666512) | more than 5 years ago | (#26368581)

Aha! I see. Thanx. Presumably, it will be designed so that the blood sample can't come into contact with the phone. At least, I hope so. If not, your concerns would certainly be justified.

Re:Convergence? (1)

DNS-and-BIND (461968) | more than 5 years ago | (#26368361)

Please stop saying that brown people are incapable of hygeine. What is this, Queen Victoria 1869? Please stop the right-wing crap and concentrate on helping, not hurting.

Re:Convergence? (3, Insightful)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 5 years ago | (#26368463)

I don't think that this is a "brown people are incapable of hygiene" thing; but a "the world over, expensive medical equipment has a way of being reused under economic pressure, unless fairly strong constraints are in place" thing.

Even in modern, western, deeply-afraid-of-malpractice-suits medical settings, medical devices are commonly engineered with hope of avoiding unsafe reuse in mind. Just look at the number of single-use syringe designs, for example.

Re:Convergence? (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26369163)

There's also the potential of exposing people to cancerous radiation "for their health", but that takes at least some time..

Wooping Nokia 1100 it's back (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26367751)

Most of the phones poor people use are in the range of old Nokia 1100, not only because they're cheap but because they're sturdy and have good reception. Again, a nice and needed help from developed countries that does not work in the field because you just don't get it: that 3rd world people do not need the help you'd need if you were poor (kinda ironic btw). Maybe you can develop some nice gadget to stop your hunger for oil, dope, diamonds and natural resources because that it's what starts everithing. Mood me to the erebus if you like, guess I deserve that for pointing out reality in a trollish fashion but I can't help myself.

Profit (1)

clint999 (1277046) | more than 5 years ago | (#26369125)

Aha! I see. Thanx. Presumably, it will be designed so that the blood sample can't come into contact with the phone. At least, I hope so. If not, your concerns would certainly be justified.

b#itch (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26369195)

Obther membeGrs in I read the latest [theos.com] on his The most vibrant over to yet another continues to lose Leaving core. I are inherently faster chip of Walnut Creek, and help us!

YOU FAIL IT?! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26369311)

up my toys. I'm Use85', BigAzz,

Voxiva has been doing this for years... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26369319)

in places like Peru, some African countries, India to name a few. They use mobile and conventional phones as data entry devices to more sophisticated web analysis tools.

Interestingly, CEO Paul Meyer was named Young Innovator by MIT Technology Review a few years back.

http://www.technologyreview.com/tr35/Profile.aspx?TRID=588

Everybody in the US (1)

ZeroExistenZ (721849) | more than 5 years ago | (#26370307)

to turn the humble mobile phone into a tool that can improve healthcare systems

Sounds like a good idea, everybody in the US has a cellphone anyway. Glad to see there are innovating thinkers to improve the healthcare system ;)

Third world heath care? (1)

nudibranchOne (260727) | more than 5 years ago | (#26390453)

Everyone seems to have gone off on, "what happens in the 3rd world countries when someone infected with... shares his cellphone through the village infecting everyone else."
What I see is us being encouraged by our government health care to use these phones to do testing rather than seeing a doctor - much less costly. Then, because good technicians are so highly paid, outsourcing the testing/reporting/diagnosing to places like India

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