Mobile health in rural areas

Although most of the world is now “connected” by the Internet but there are people who are still left outside of this connection – people who live in a rural agricultural areas or remote villages. Many areas do not have health centers or a hospital so providing health care to them is a major problem, especially when they cannot get to hospital quickly in an emergency. Therefore health problems of people in rural area are more serious and that is why they have higher rates of chronic disease and death than people in urban areas. Today there is much a higher rate of cancer in these people due to exposure to chemicals used in farming and without early diagnostic, or prevention action, it could be a serious health issue in the near future.

One of my students from Kenya explains an effective way of helping these people using mobile technology or m-health. Since mobile phones are very popular in Kenya, even in rural area many people have mobile phone so mobile technology is a better choice than the Internet to provide health information. There is a popular mobile application called “e-Visit” where a patient communicates with doctors over the phone instead of in person. Patients begin by answer numbers of question from the “e-Visit” app such as name, age, address or village location and the health problems that they have. The message is sent to a nurse works in an e-health center that may be hundred kilometers away and operate 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. The nurse reviews the information, determines the problems, and transfers the request to an appropriated medical doctor who will discuss treatments with patients. The doctor may recommend advices on health, issues prescriptions for medication or schedule an examination, if needed. In case patients are not familiar with mobile technology, a village chief or someone in the village could help typing in questions and explain doctor’s advices to the patients. In remote villages, the village chief often have some health monitor devices such as thermometer, blood pressure monitor, to get results to doctor. Some of these modern monitors can be connected to the Internet or to video equipment to allow better interaction with medical doctor. According to the student, e-Visits app is very popular as it save both patients and doctors time compared with an office visits where travel is required, which is inconvenience for people in rural areas, who may not have access to transportation.

Nurse using a mobile phone in Accra, Ghana (Image: Wikipedia)

All patients’ health record are collected in a central database so doctors can review patients to check for immunizations, or certain health problems that they need to monitor like diabetes, heart diseases, tuberculosis, and other common diseases. Having an electronic health record can be helpful in case of emergency, doctors can check patients’ health information, such as a disease they are being treated for, medications they take, certain drugs that they are allergic to etc. In addition to some health mobile apps, the medical school also created medical website to provide health information and disease prevention to rural people, help them to understand more about health information.

He concluded: “Mobile technology has significant potential to improve the quality of health care and make it accessible to more people in the rural areas. It is simple, easy to do, and does not need a lot of money. It is possible to have computer science students to develop these health care information websites, accessible by mobile phones as school projects, to provide health information and raise awareness about health issues to these people and improve their lives.”

Sources

  • Blogs of Prof. John Vu, Carnegie Mellon University