'Micro-work,' 'time-banking' concepts hold promise for U.S. healthcare

The concept of micro-work is small: Break down complex technical jobs into small, bite-sized pieces, and farm those out to workers who are paid a few pennies or dollars per task. It's reshaping lives in the developing world, according to a story in FastCoExist.com.

Author Bradley Keit acknowledges that micro-work hasn't really reached the healthcare shores yet, but insists it has significant potential. "While medical microwork is almost unheard of outside of a handful of examples like VizWiz, it represents a kind of work that could become increasingly important over the next few years as both a tool to improve health and as a development strategy," he writes.

In particular, a recent World Bank contest--asking for ideas on how to use smartphones for medical tasks--the response was enthusiastic. Respondents saw micro-work as a way to train para-professionals on certain technologies, such as interpreting digital x-rays in the field, and extend professional healthcare providers' reach, the Fast Company blog post notes. 

Simpler jobs, such as identifying certain medicines or checking on pharmacy supplies, could also be farmed out as micro-work, respondents posited.

Micro-work is certainly catching on outside of healthcare. One of its creators, the nonprofit Samasource, just got a $1.5 million grant from Google to expand its micro-work contracts in Kenya, India, Pakistan and Haiti, according to Forbes. The World Bank also projects the market could grow to the several billion dollars within five years.

Eric Dishman, director of health innovation and policy for Intel's Digital Health Group, pointed to a similar emerging trend in Europe and Asia--time-banking programs that train less-qualified individuals to take on smaller pieces of a complex task and be tracked and monitored through an online system. He sees a major opportunity to reduce the costs and hassle of healthcare by creating a type of micro-work in parts of the U.S. healthcare system, he told FierceMobileHealthare in an exclusive interview. 

For example, "for the vast majority of chronic care management--which is the med reminding [and] coaching people to do behavior change--there's no reason we should be using the scarce resources of doctors and nurses when their time is better spent on emergency cases," he said.

And given the number of cheap, easy-to-use plug-ins for smartphones these days, patients, family members and friends--with a little training--may have the tools they need to step into the breach.

To learn more:
- read the FastCoExist.com story
- see Forbes' coverage of Google's microwork grants

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