Improving global health with mobile technology.
This past week, I have been researching the viability of using mobile phones to help improve health care in the rural villages of the Mawokota north constituency in central Uganda.
Why mobile technology?
Mobile phones have become ubiquitous around the world; in fact, close to five billion people own a cell phone, a majority of whom live in resource-poor countries like Uganda. 90% of the world’s population is covered by a mobile network, and by 2015, it is estimated that 90% of the world’s population will own a network-subscribed phone. Infiltrating even the pockets of people making under a dollar a day, mobile phones have become an accessible resource for health care intervention.
|Mudumma Health Center III in Mawokota north constituency|
One of the defining challenges of rural health care is distance and the isolation it generates. Take Mawokota north, for example, located in the Mpigi district in Uganda. Divided into four sub-counties, Mawokota north houses over 150,000 people in 194 villages over a catchment of 130 square miles. This whole area is served by four clinics, only one of which can provide services beyond the basic dispensary, including maternal, dental, and HIV/Aids care. More so, each center houses only one doctor- that is, each doctor is expected to care for over 37,000 people. Due to a lack of transport, most villagers are required to walk to their sub-county’s health center, a journey that can be over 30 miles and which many patients choose not to make.
In order to alleviate some of these problems, local volunteers called Village Health Teams (VHTs) have been trained in basic primary health practices so that they may extend healthcare into the villages. Though they have proved successful in increasing health awareness, these VHTs currently have no available facility for communication with medical professionals and as such, are as isolated from the health centers as their patients.
This is where Medic Mobile and its set of free mobile health tools step in. Medic Mobile is a non-profit organization that has developed a software program which leverages simple cell phone technology and Short Messaging Service (SMS)-based communication to bridge the prevailing communication gap and increase health care access and support.
The Medic Mobile program includes PatientView, an Electronic Medical Record system and FrontlineForms, a mobile application which allows VHTs to record patient data directly on their mobile phones and instantly text the information back to the hospital. This data is then received by the hospital staff and automatically added to the patient’s record, providing the missing link between hospitals, VHTs, and their patients.
|Some available features of the Medic Mobile program|
As an example, consider patient referrals. Currently, when a VHT makes a referral, they can only ask the villager to visit the hospital and provide them with a slip of paper. The VHT will never know if the patient visited the hospital unless he physically checks up on patient, a task which can involve tens of extra miles and hours of walking on the VHT’s side. With the Medic Mobile system, however, the VHT can now fill out a customizable patient referral form directly on their cell phone and text it back to the hospital. This allows for two things: first, the hospital can prepare for the incoming patient and second, if the patient does not comes in, the hospital can notify the VHT and ask him to revisit the patient and encourage him to come.
There are many other amazing uses for this free, user-friendly program, including missed appointment tracking and patient vaccination reminders, as diagrammed above. If you are interested in learning more about it, please visit the Medic Mobile website at www.medicmobile.org.
I am here in the villages of Uganda to determine whether or not the Medic Mobile tools prove viable and appropriate for the Mudumma health center and its associated VHTs. I will soon be meeting with some volunteers to discuss their resource needs and willingness to use the program. Looking forward to their responses!