Mobile Health and Apollo 13 Moments
I was recently invited to speak at the mHealth Networking Conference in Washington DC about the role mobile phones can play in disease management. It was clear from the two days of presentations that mobile for health is an area of challenge and opportunity. Most of us are easily excited by novel health iPhone apps and can readily envision a world where consumers use these devices as much more than the evolution of the PC and browser thanks to the Swiss Army knife compliment of features such as the camera, GPS and compass providing dimensions of data and functionality that far exceed the humble laptop.
However, those at the conference tackling some of the toughest public health challenges were quick to talk about the realities of the phone. For example, Brent More of Yale’s School of Medicine shared that in treating drug addiction, concerns about privacy and cost force innovation using technology that one can access from any kind of phone. The only viable way to get health information and guidance to that group is via Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems. In this case the phone does not have to be smart, but the information has to be manageable a few key punches at a time. Thousands of miles away in India, Nandu Madhava, has a company called mDhil which reveals the power of the SMS text message to change for the millions of citizens who do not have access to basic health information. India is a market of 500 million cell phones and 90% of those are prepaid phones where the most accessible content is delivered via SMS message. Launched March of 2009, the pilot of his service boasts 150,000 paying subscribers to his health information. Clearly our challenge as in industry is to push innovation along the entire spectrum to make as much information available to as many people who need it as possible. I’m reminded of my favorite scene from Apollo 13 where a team of scientists with on the contents of the lunar module is all they have available to make a CO2 scrubber. Real creativity occurs under constraint whether that is cutting up the hose from space suit and taping some plastic bags around charcoal – or working with 160 text characters if it means reaching everybody with a mobile phone. Look for Nandu’s TED India talk when the videos are posted.