Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Hit 'send' for better health

Talk about looking into the future of public health. This public health blogger was transfixed by the innovative, amazingly creative ideas discussed during a Tuesday morning session on mobile technology and health. With more than 4 billion mobile phones globally (and that number probably changed in the two seconds it took me to write that), it makes perfect sense to use the platform to reach people with what can be life-changing health information.

Paul Meyer, head of Voxiva, a company dedicated to “mobile centric information solutions,” offered the most insightful quotes of the session. While the United States is a leader when it comes to the Internet, in mobile health, “we’re the followers,” he said. The rest of the world went mobile much quicker than us in the United States because the Internet is simply not accessible for much of the world’s people, he said.

“So, even if you have the world’s greatest Internet strategy, you’re still only halfway there,” Meyer said, adding that soon it won’t be a matter of if you should have a mobile strategy, but a matter of defending “why you don’t have a mobile strategy.”

After all, he said: “The best Web site in the world isn’t going to remind you to take your pill in the morning.”

Meyer’s new endeavor, Text4Baby, is scheduled to launch this January. Created in partnership with groups such as HHS and the National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition and supported by telecom companies, the free service (in fact, the first free mobile texting service in the United States) will send expecting moms three healthy messages per week, and after giving birth, the mobile service will start sending different tips, like info on child vaccine schedules. (Wanna copy of Meyer’s Annual Meeting presentation? Send a text to 311411.)

Finally, presenter Josh Nesbit, head of FrontlineSMS: Medic, told the story of his journey to the forefront of the mobile health movement. Working in Malawi, Nesbit observed how difficult and burdensome it was for community health workers to keep connected with the region’s tiny (very tiny) handful of physicians. So, with a small grant and a creative touch, Nesbit provided the workers with cell phones and the know-how to keep in touch with not only the physicians, but with each other. With the new mobile technology, the workers could do things like text a patient’s HIV/TB drug adherence report to a doctor. How freaking cool is that?

The big lesson, Nesbit said, is making sure the technology works for the people using it.

“If it doesn’t work for the end user, then it doesn’t work, period,” he told session attendees.

Find out more by visiting FrontlineSMS: Medic and read how text messaging is literally saving people’s lives. You can also visit CDC’s mobile health site for info on how the nation’s top public health agency is using cell phones to improve health here and around the world.

Wanna donate your old phone to help others? Visit Hope Phones to find out how to donate your old cell phone to a medical clinic in a developing country.

And one more thing: For more in-depth coverage of this new frontier, check out these two recent stories from The Nation’s Health, APHA's newspaper: "RU healthy? Public health efforts take on text messaging" and "Cell phone popularity a barrier for public health data collection: More Americans forgoing phone landlines."

— K.K.

Image courtesy iStockphoto

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