Bridging the health divide, mHealth can go a long way in providing equitable, sustainable healthcare for the have nots.
Deploying mHealth, that is relatively absent worldwide, is today obvious in India for 750 million, living in suburban and rural India, who have direct access to only 20% of India’s depleted healthcare personnel. mHealth is more relevant in the Global South than conventional eHealth.
There are at least 15 active mHealth pilot projects in India carried out by some state governments and NGOs as part of an mGovernance initiative and a few sporadic projects have been carried out by others as well.
Projects include use of mobile games to enhance HIV/AIDS awareness, use of handheld devices to collect raw health data which were transmitted in real time to the Health Information System Database. Mobile phones are also used to send daily health alerts and to track Disease and Epidemic Outbreaks.
Key applications of mHealth include education and creating awareness, remote data collection, communication and training for healthcare workers, disease and epidemic outbreak tracking, diagnostic and treatment support and remote monitoring, access to technology, end user and health care provider acceptance, lack of regulatory issues, logistics and availability of appropriate, need-based, customised solutions are some of the other challenges.
Challenges in deploying mHealth include changing the mind set of the people, convincing them with large success stories, providing education, training, providing solar units for power to charge their mobiles and making available appropriate, cost effective, need based, Value Added Services.
Mobile phones—can check refractive errors, used as a microscope, used to manipulate DICOM images, used to see ECG, used to hear heart sounds and used to connect blue tooth enabled sensors and a Body Area Network to a physician remotely. Mobile phones can also store mPHR and enable access to drug interactions. However, there is a long way to go before a mobile phone becomes a hand-held hospital.
mHealth should be delivered in combination with other mServices including mCare, mServices, mSurveillance and mLearning. The fruitful result from mHealth will depend on creating the right ‘fit’ between mHealth applications and healthcare needs; in other words mHealth should be need-driven not technology-driven.
As Walter Hugo once remarked “Nothing can stop an idea, whose time has come”, the time has come in India, that in spite of all the challenges, mHealth can and should be part of the healthcare delivery system.
mHealth, bridging the health divide, can go a long way in providing equitable, sustainable healthcare for the have nots.