Modern medicine is rapidly evolving with the advent of mHealth (mobile health) technologies. In advanced healthcare systems, the mobile revolution offers the opportunity to improve quality of care, patient outcomes, efficiency, and the patient experience. In the developing world, however, the impact is even more profound: mHealth is delivering medical care where access has never before been possible.

Healthcare and Mobile Technology in the Developing World

Developing nations, particularly in Asia and Africa, face huge obstacles in delivering available treatment to rural people. Vast numbers of people suffer and die from curable diseases because the facilities and professionals that could provide treatment are too far away or because they do not know that their ailments could be treated.

Mobile phones, which have penetrated widely in the developing world, can change this.   Rural people who do not have electricity or telephone lines now have cell phones, often charged in commercial centers from a communal car-battery. For corporations and non-profit non-governmental organizations (NGOs) alike, this development has provided a chance to deliver a previously impossible level of medical care to people in some of the most remote areas of the world.

Simple Telehealth

In some cases, mobile phones are used simply to put patients in touch with medical professionals. Living Goods, an NGO operating in Uganda and Kenya, offers a service through which people can call a medical professional directly for advice. Simply opening up this communication is extremely beneficial, as a patient can then be informed of simple steps they can take at home or convinced to travel for treatment. Living Goods will also respond by sending a professional to make a house-call when necessary. The organization has now expanded its mobile program to send health reminders to patients, for example to inform a pregnant woman of recommended medical precautions at various stages of pregnancy and later infancy or to remind a patient to take a prescribed medication.

mHealth in Rural Eye Care

The success of such basic applications of mHealth has lead to the development of more advanced methods of improving rural healthcare through mobile technology. One such technology is the Portable Eye Examination Kit (Peek), which seeks to address the challenges of rural ocular health. 90% of the world’s 39 million blind people live in the developing world, and an estimated 80% of cases of blindness are preventable—but only if rural people can gain access to available diagnostic and treatment methods.

To combat this problem, Peek is developing smartphone applications that allow eye examinations with minimal training to diagnose cataracts (the most common cause of blindness), refractive errors like myopia, macular degeneration, glaucoma, and other eye diseases. Peek is still in the trial phase, but hopes not only to diagnose rural patients but also to help them to access treatment.

As mHealth technology improves, it may prove to be the developing world’s solution to diseases that are treatable or eradicated in the developed world. Infectious diseases like malaria, measles, and amoebic dysentery are no longer deadly in America and Europe; with the help of mHealth, these preventable illnesses may be eradicated in the developing world as well.

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