For perspective on mHealth challenges, look to developing countries

Mobile healthcare shows promise in developing countries, but when you look closely at some of the great programs and dedicated people that are out there with boots on the ground, it quickly becomes apparent that Western ideas about technology don't always translate.

The past decade has seen remarkable growth in the availability of cell phones in developing countries, a recent iMedicalApps article notes. "As a result, millions of people are now connected in ways they have never been before.  This brings new opportunities for disease prevention efforts, through means such as ... texting."

And we often hear stories of mHealth applications developed in the U.S. that hold potential for use in developing countries. But it's not as easy as it sometimes sounds.

Take, for example, a program called eHealthNigeria, which recently was featured in a Wired magazine blog blog post. The organization implements mHealth solutions in Nigeria to allow healthcare workers to give better patient care and receive better data collection while they are working in the field, according to its website.  

"We focus on using mHealth tools [that] are proven to be effective and have already been implemented in other countries," the site says. "In this way, we ensure sustainability of mHealth projects and the continuous improvement and advancement of the [software] that we implement."

Two members of the organization, Evelyn Castle and Adam Thompson, are working in another area of focus for the group-data collection. They're creating digital records of daily births and the health records of adults across the region, including polio cases and expectant mothers who've tested HIV positive across northern Nigeria.

"It's an enormous task, but the size is only part of the problem," Wired notes. "Castle and Thompson are introducing western technology to facilities that aren't familiar with it--and may not have the resources to handle what they are familiar with."

If you want a deeper understanding of that challenge, check out this video of eHealthNigeria teaching birth attendants how to use cell phones--or, to be more specific, teaching them how to turn the device on and off. Click on the "interactive transcript version" to see how much confusion there is over something you and I might assume everyone knows--the difference between the red button on the phone and the green one.

I don't know about you, but it gave me a true appreciation for the work these folks are doing.  

If you'd like to keep up with eHealthNigeria's work, check out their Facebook page and Twitter feed. - Gienna