Brookings: Mobile tools driving improved care, treatment in emerging nations

Mobile healthcare technology, tools and devices are boosting patient care and treatment strategies, from preventing maternal health issues to battling Ebola, in Nigeria, Liberia and Sierra Leone in Africa.

The tools--from mobile phone calls to text messaging to electronic record keeping systems--are providing front-line health staff with real-time medical knowledge, helping track epidemics, boosting diagnosis and spurring faster medical response, especially in remote areas where consistent medical visits are far and few between.

In a new report published by the Center for Technology Innovation at Brookings, Darrell West, vice president and director of Governance Studies and founding center director, outlines several case studies where mHealth is making a valuable difference while also identifying the substantial challenges requiring attention.

Two mobile apps, for instance, are helping healthcare workers monitor pregnant women and offering support on everything from prenatal nutrition to what to expect in the childbirth process.

"Mobile communication can aid in providing fast and accurate access to care. Consider that every day around the world 800 women die from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth," West writes. "Of those deaths, 40 percent are due to injuries or conditions related to placenta complications which can be detected through ultrasounds."

He discusses a collaborative effort in Nigeria where a wide range of stakeholders, including a telecom and public health organizations, are providing midwives and healthcare workers with tablets to help reduce infant mortality. Another program aims to make patient record keeping and an easier task using a wireless network and mobile electronic record-keeping platform.

West also cites how mobile medical tools have helped to keep the Ebola threat from becoming a devastating epidemic in Nigeria due to the ability to track infections and quickly respond with treatment to those diagnosed with the potentially deadly virus.

"Mobile platforms are helping address existing healthcare issues and those that emerge suddenly," he says. "They bring leading, international informational resources to underserved communities in both rural and urban areas quickly and efficiently."

As FierceMobileHealthcare has reported, the Groupe Speciale Mobile Association's Mobile for Development mHealth program launched a cross-ecosystem partnership last July to offer mHealth services with a focus on nutrition to 15.5 million pregnant women, mothers and children under the age of 5 in Sub-Saharan Africa. In October 2014 the World Health Organization, UNICEF and a North Carolina nonprofit were readying a mobile communications platform to spur faster and more accurate data sharing among health workers on the front lines of the Ebola battle in Liberia, West Africa, as related by a Politico report.

Yet despite all the programs being deployed, West notes there still are formidable hurdles, such as a lack of Internet access, language barriers and resources to develop needed partnerships to drive mHealth programs forward. Policy obstacles and regulatory concerns also need to be tackled, he writes.

For more information:
- read the Brookings report (.pdf)

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