Swine flu outbreak is a great test for mobile alert systems

The editors at Wireless Week should be thanking their lucky stars. A web exclusive posted Monday carried the headline, "Mobile Alerts Play Key Healthcare Role." The story was about the April 8 recall of psoriasis drug Raptiva (efalizumab) after it was linked to a rare, serious brain infection, and how, within hours, drug information service Epocrates was able to contact 225,000 physicians who had signed up for mobile and online alerts.

Notwithstanding the fact that Wireless Week reported the wrong date of the recall, the story could have been a major embarrassment for the publication, simply because of timing. From the time the editors presumably finalized and readied the article for publication late last week, to the actual posting date, the landscape changed. Unless you were living under a rock, or otherwise had no access to radio, television, the Internet, a telephone or a friend all weekend, you know that the health news--really, all the news--has been about swine flu. Unless you were actually on the drug, the Raptiva story might as well have happened years ago.

Except that the idea of mobile health alerts could not be more timely.

As typically happens whenever word gets out about some new infectious disease with pandemic potential, people are scared and misinformation abounds. For health professionals, wouldn't it be nice to get real-time updates from public health authorities? Wouldn't those authorities love to have real-time confirmations or, better, ruling out of new cases of swine flu? And no doubt, the public wants facts from trusted sources of information, not rumors and fear-mongering. Mobile alert systems have the potential to deliver exactly what everybody wants. - Neil