Mobile health, mHealth, is defined as a medical and public health practice supported by mobile devices such as cell phones, tablets, and smart watches. These patient monitoring devices have made waves in the United States. Just this year, Apple introduced the first watch that could monitor the heartbeat in ways technology was incapable of in the past. But the real impact has been felt in the more far-flung places of the world.
In remote areas like India and Africa, in Mali, Kenya and Tanzania in particular, where cell phone subscription rates are higher than in the United States, mHealth is being used to diagnose and treat medical conditions where access to health care is otherwise unavailable or limited. In an article written by Electrical Engineer Shikha Sinah (1), is stated the following:
“…resounding success has been achieved by a postoperative education mHealth tool designed to provide the answers to parent or guardian caregivers who are attending to pediatric patients... Only 7 of the 64 families given access to the app called the clinic with postoperative questions. In total, 68% of families used the app and 86% said they would prefer to use the app in future rather than make a phone call with questions about patient care.”
But, chief among the targets of the mHealth programs is combatting blindness and assisting those who suffer from any degree of this life-altering disability. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 253 million people live with vision impairment. Of that number, 36 million are legally blind. Yet, over 80% of all vision impairment can be prevented or cured. Unoperated cataracts, for example, are the leading cause of blindness.
Thankfully, we can look for those numbers to decline, due to mHealth programs and the long arm reach of mobile cell devices. From simple vision tests to retinal exams, mobile devices are helping diagnose and secure treatment for those at risk. WHO has set up a global initiative for the elimination of avoidable blindness by 2020. If you are interested in learning more about it, visit https://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs213/en/.