mHealth lessons in Ebola crisis continue to spawn tech innovation

There's a centuries-old saying that every cloud has a silver lining. 

The silver lining I'm focusing on is the mobile health technology lessons being learned from the current Ebola virus outbreak--and how these lessons will foster greater mHealth tools and tech moving forward.

As we reported earlier this month, the World Health Organization, UNICEF and a North Carolina nonprofit are prepping 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.

Then there's a text app helping Ghana pharmaceutical companies provide special product labeling to battle fake Ebola medicine, which is an increasing problem in West Africa. 

And this week we report that Nigeria leaders are applauding a social media campaign and Android reporting app for playing a vital role in containing and eradicating Ebola from the country. The software sliced reporting times of infections by 75 percent, a tremendous benefit in sharing infection data among field teams. As one WHO official said, the "use of cutting-edge technologies, developed with guidance from the WHO polio program, put GPS systems to work as support for real-time contact tracing and daily mapping of links between identified chains of transmission."

Given all these examples, it easy to get the impression the current Ebola outbreak is the first time mHealth is providing such benefits in a healthcare crisis.

But that is a wrong impression. Five years ago, in June 2009, FierceMobileHealthcare reported how physicians and epidemiologists in Peru's navy were using cellphones to track different diseases. The technology, developed by the U.S. Navy, was cited as a way to help to head off potential epidemics.

"If you are a medical doctor or a nurse working in a health facility far away and you have a suspect case of Ebola, what you do is call into a toll free number, enter your personal identification number and then your password," Ernesto Gohzher, M.D., told the BBC's World Service at the time.

That wasn't the real-time sharing mHealth tech provides today, but it was a big improvement over faxing data from one global response location to another.

Such emerging mHealth technology will likely have a greater role as Ebola spreads. Steve VanRoekel, who recently left the White House administration to head up the U.S. Agency for International Development's technology efforts in fighting Ebola has stated that while technology "is not the solution" to stopping Ebola, "it will be part of the solution."

It's clear mHealth tech has long been part of the battle against Ebola and other infectious diseases and will continue to be five years, 10 years and even 100 years down the road.

And that tech likely will be light years ahead in terms of capabilities, function and features showcased today.

And that's just amazing. - Judy (@JudyMottl and @FierceHealthIT)