The last five years have seen a progressive shift in the reciprocal importance of those who share a vested interest in the healthcare domain. However, we as human population have a long night ahead of us in terms of controlling the health and wellbeing of fellow citizens of the world. As we talk about it, certain developing countries find it difficult to overcome some of the serious health challenges due to several core obstacles. One major obstacle among them is a global shortage of healthcare workers.
WHO says that among 57 countries, mostly in the developing world, there is a critical shortfall in healthcare workers, which represents a total deficit of 2.4 million healthcare workers worldwide. We also see growing incidence of chronic diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease, which is the byproduct of relative luxury and abundance the developed world has to offer. Governments, businesses, NGOs, foundations, and multilateral organizations together havel recognized the importance of leveraging new solutions to address these health challenges.
In comes the real-world solutions. Currently, the most popular means people communicate today are mobile applications. Mobile communication offers an effective means of bringing healthcare services to developing-country citizens.
Low-cost handsets and the percolation of mobile phone networks globally has led to tens of millions of citizens, who never had regular access to a fixed-line telephone or computer, now use these mobile devices as daily tools for communication, data transfer, and as a part of their daily routine.
When asked to US citizens, more than 45 percent of them said that they can see themselves using healthcare mobile applications. Cumulatively, close to 35 percent of the population have used these healthcare mobile apps at least once or use it regularly.
The single most noteworthy aspect with mobiles is that Mobile phones reach further into developing countries than other technology and health infrastructures.
This gave rise to mHealth solutions. mHealth has emerged as an important segment in electronic health solutions or eHealth solutions. eHealth can be stated as using information and communication technology like computers, mobile phones, and satellite Communications for health services and information. And mHealth can be termed as using mobile communications like PDAs and mobile phones — for similar purposes.
Currently mobile applications in healthcare segment has a wide array of offered solutions viz:
- Education and awareness
- Remote monitoring
- Disease and epidemic outbreak tracking
- Diagnostic and treatment support
- Remote data collection
- Communication and training for healthcare workers
Education & Awareness
With the help of short message service or SMS messages, healthcare organizations offer a cost-effective, efficient, and scalable method of providing outreach services pertaining to a wide range of health issues. Messages are sent directly to the users’ phones to offer information about testing and treatment methods, availability of health services, and disease management. These SMS alerts have a measurable impact on and a greater ability to influence behavior than radio and television campaigns.
As an example, Project Masiluleke and Text to Change was launched to spread awareness about HIV / AIDS by using SMS education in South Africa and Uganda, respectively. The project takes advantage of the 120 spare characters on free ‘please call me’ SMS messages to provide HIV/AIDS education and awareness, while Text to Change employs an SMS-based quiz to test.
One of the areas which is uniquely suited to grow in accordance with the mobile technology is the remote monitoring of patients. With the help of remote monitoring, new possibilities for treating patients in an outpatient setting, a crucial capability in developing countries where access to hospital beds and clinics is limited, has come into existence.
With major companies focusing their budget on healthcare app development, the existing group of applications consists of one- or two-way communications to monitor health conditions, maintain caregiver appointments, or ensure medication regimen adherence etc.
In Thailand, TB patients were given mobile phones so that healthcare workers, who were formerly TB patients, can call these patients on a daily basis and check on them whether they have taken their medication properly.
Epidemic outbreak tracking
Episodes of Japanese Encephalitis were previously tracked real-time in Andhra Pradesh, India, with the help of a combination of mobile phones and web-based technologies. Government used the information in order to better calculate vaccinations based on the evidence of clusters of outbreaks.
The overall use of mobile technologies in day-to-day life has led to a reflection on their use in healthcare management to help increase the quality of the healthcare process. More and more healthcare professionals and patients use medical applications for smartphones.