Telehealth in developing countries may require change in Western med schools

About 80 percent of the population of Nepal live outside Kathmandu, but 90 percent of the country's doctors are in the capital city. Electricity is spotty, the government is somewhat unstable and average annual income is just $400. So basic telemedicine, driven by cell phones and text messaging, makes sense. Problem is, according to Dr. Victor Patterson, a retired neurologist from Northern Ireland, medical schools both in developing countries and in the West, don't teach telephone-based medicine.

"So how best to make it happen? One way is by teaching it formally in the local medical schools where, in my experience, the medical students are more enthusiastic and knowledgeable than comparable UK medical students," Patterson writes on the Telecare Aware blog.

"Once it is incorporated into the fundament of medicine then they might be able to apply it to develop the necessary care systems for the rural parts of their country.

"Another way is by gathering and publishing data to show how effective telephone medicine can be. This is what we are trying to do by setting up an epilepsy program at Dhulikhel Hospital which uses the telephone to diagnose and follow up patients with epilepsy in the surrounding part of rural Nepal."

Some Western universities are taking steps to push cell phone-based telemedicine in low-resource countries. A couple of weeks ago, the UCLA Center for Children and Families announced that it is joining with technology vendor DPS Health and a women's health program in South Africa to study how text messaging can provide support to poor women with type 2 diabetes.

And the International Telecommunication Union has put out a report on mobile healthcare and telemedicine in developing countries.

To learn more:
- check out Patterson's Telecare Aware special report
- see this DPS Health/UCLA press release
- download the ITU report, "Mobile Health Solutions for Developing Countries 2010"