What the US health system can learn from mHealth expertise in emerging countries

There’s cameraphone hacking that morphs the phone into a blood test device. Embrace Labs in India builds an incubator for $25. Micro- mobile payments are financing health care on the ground in emerging economies.  

At SXSW in Austin, TX, on March 12, 2011, a globally experienced quartet of panelists shared their observations of working with highly constrained budgets in developing countries during the session, Mobile Health in Africa: What Can We Learn? The answer is: plenty.

Doug Naegele of Infield Health moderated the panel, which included Patricia Mechael of the Center for Global Health and Economic Development at the Earth Institute, part of Columbia University; Josh Nesbit of Medic Mobile; and, Jaspal Sandhu of Gobee Group

From medication reminders and mobile payments to mashing up medical devices with available hardware and leveraging broadband networks, public health workers and application developers are coming together to re-imagine health delivery in some of the poorest health-hungry nations in the world.

Ironically, these environments open the way to fresh and disruptive thinking which is constrained in the U.S. due to its health care financing and delivery model, which skew incentives for being efficient, effective, and patient-centric.

While health care delivery in emerging countries is a world away from health care in developed nations, there are some commonalities worth noting. Patty Mechael said that even in the most remote rural areas of Egypt, there are broadband 3G networks with powerful data transmission. However, there’s also a lack of standards for mobile health and system interoperability. Data still largely remains in silos so it can’t be aggregated in meaningful ways. However, Mechael noted that more governments are putting mHealth policies into place under broad eHealth banners that address the huge challenge of health IT interoperability.

And, the world over, there’s still not enough evidence on the impact and effectiveness of mHealth programs, Sandhu told the audience. There is, though, gathering evidence, such as a study done in Kenya published in The Lancet in 2011 which found SMS messaging to be effectively deployed for an HRT medication adherence program for people with HIV/AIDS.

Health Populi’s Hot Points:   Doug Naegele polled the audience at the SXSW session, identifying the developers from the public health folks. He described a “wrestling match”  between the people who make tech and the people who use it.

When it comes to health and health care, that twain must meet. And they must meet with the person-patient at the center of that circle.

If people want to use music videos for health, then use them, Sandhu asserted. Everyone’s personal health ecosystem is their own individual recipe. The technology should support that individual’s life flow and personal preferences.

Josh Nesbit echoed: it’s not about the tech. “Don’t wait,” he said, to experiment and make things happen.

5 Responses to What the US health system can learn from mHealth expertise in emerging countries

  1. Rick Lee March 17, 2011 at 5:26 pm #

    Jane,

    I think the true marvel of mHealth is our ability to refine choice architecture, while deviating from the traditional one-size-fits-all model of Health Care. There will not be a movement sweeping through the Apple store and its 10,000 health care apps. Choice architecture that helps Starbucks consumers pick from 660 options by looking at a menu with 12 choice categories has to emerge.

    In a doctor-centric world, little attention is given to the end user and his/her likes/preferences. In the mHealth world that is taking off, we have the ability to dynamically personalize the messaging back to a consumer’s smartphone. It can be highly tailored to that individual. It will stimulate behavioral change because each user will get a message that “is all about me.” And who doesn’t like getting messages that play to their unique set of interests, lifestyle, preferences, and individual health status?

    This is a very exciting time to be creating solutions for Americans to improve their health.

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