Sunday, August 30, 2009

Smartphones in Developing Countries

The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston has developed new smartphone technology to help improve the quality of healthcare in developing nations where medical services can be scarce.

The technology includes an application with easy-to-follow medical guidelines that can be loaded onto smartphones based on Windows Mobile and used by community health workers in remote areas to diagnose and treat various medical conditions. The GuideView application and contents can be stored on a smartphone so that neither internet access nor the smartphone network is required.

Community health workers provide a large portion of healthcare in developing nations and many use smartphones or have access to them, according to M. Sriram Iyengar, PhD., GuideView inventor, and Assistant Professor at the University of Texas, School of Health Information Sciences at Houston.

In some areas, community health workers have limited medical training and are prone to errors so they can be greatly helped by the information available by using a smartphone. For example, a study done by CDC found that community healthcare workers in developing nations make errors in diagnosis and treatment as much as 62 percent of the time.

GuideView enables the user to get step-by-step instructions on diagnosing and treating medical conditions. Depending on the medical condition, there can be as many as 225 steps to use when treating a particular medical problem or condition. If at any time, the medical condition is deemed serious or life threatening, the application is programmed to dial the closest emergency service and records the steps taken so they can be reviewed at a later time.

Recently GuideView was tested in the Human Patient Simulation Laboratory at the University of Antioquia Medical School in Medellin, Columbia. Fifty health workers used the application to treat medical conditions simulated by sophisticated, life-size mannequins. Ninety five percent said they would use this technology in their daily practice and perceived the technology as useful.

Iyengar came up with the idea for GuideView while helping NASA develop a medical instruction program that astronauts could use on extended missions. Initial funding was through NASA and the Army Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center. Iyengar recently received a grant from Microsoft and the Office of Technology Management at the UT Health Science Center at Houston and also received a UT System Ignition Fund grant to develop the technology for commercialization. The researchers are currently working on versions of GuideView for iPhones, Blackberries, and other types of smartphone technologies.