India is one of many countries facing severe shortage of trained medical professionals—including nurses, dentists, and administrators—but especially doctors. By the most recent data, the United States has 2.672 doctors per 1,000 people, and 3.1 hospital beds per 1,000 people. India, on the other hand, has a mere 0.599 doctors and 0.9 hospital beds per 1,000 people.
Going by these numbers, India would need almost 2.4 million new doctors and over 2 million more hospital beds to reach the same proportions as the United States! These shortages have wide ranging effects on both the local and the global level, and the potential to create a plethora of secondary problems.
With the spiraling cost of healthcare across the world and especially in India, consumers are looking for any assistance to reduce medical expenses and stay healthy. Toss the coin to other side and you will see that doctors are also seeking ways to improve their relationship with their patients, increase patient communication and their adherence to prescribed regimens, with the overarching plan to improve the quality of care. And both parties have found a common platform: mobile health or mHealth.
mHealth is pushing the boundaries of how to acquire, transport, store, process, and secure the raw and processed data to deliver meaningful results. It offers the ability of remote individuals to participate in the health care value matrix, which may not have been possible in the past. Apart from consumption of health care services, mHealth allows remote users to send in valuable data regarding disease and public health concerns such as outdoor pollution, drugs and violence. This strengthens the hand of pharma companies to produce better drugs and governments to deliver better health services at the right time to the right people.
In the case of government, doctors, patients and employers are increasingly adopting mHealth’s innovative devices, compelling applications (apps) and seamless connectivity to save time, budgets without compromising quality of the healthcare. Medical apps offer the opportunity to monitor health and encourage patient wellness on a moment-to-moment basis, instead of the occasional visit to the doctor's chamber. It also helps in the case of critical care patients or post-operative patients for the doctor decide whether the symptom warrants a visit to the doctor’s office or a tele-consultation will suffice.
These apps which provide an immediate and direct link between the doctor and patient are making consumers more confident and hence better patients and doctors more available and accessible.
Patients now do not have to jog their memories to recall past illnesses, symptoms or weight for that matter. Now information is being fed in with other data sets to provide a comprehensive look at a person’s individual health. And facilitating these are mobile smartphones, with tech platforms that can be used effectively to connect with physicians while processing information and data critical to the patients.
This is where latest technology like NFC (near field communication) brings in a huge advantage of minimal change management when introducing mHealth applications. NFC in its many applications, takes away the need for data entry. Rather, the patient can punch a foil or tap a smart card to store relevant information and the doctor can tap his BlackBerry to the smartcard to instantly read all the patient data.We’re starting to see the possibilities for same in mHealth.
Globally, smartphones are breaching barriers to make a difference. Harvard University researchers are using smartphones to bring medical care to remote corners of the world where people would otherwise have to walk for a day to seek medical help. Researchers are working on a paper chip that could be touched with a drop of blood and then photographed and text messaged to a clinic that could analyse it and offer a diagnosis.
The need for and the potential of healthcare apps in India is growing owing to the growth witnessed by the Indian healthcare industry that has significantly contributed to the Indian economy. The convergence of mobile technology with an evolving healthcare delivery system will continue to drive the mHealth applications market.
At Research In Motion, through our products and applications, we are trying to introduce new technological innovations that the consumer today may require to bring convenience to their lives. Some of the RIM health apps are eTraq and MphRx. eTraq is an application for BlackBerry PlayBook users.
BlackBerry is attempting to create applications that will not only make time and distance irrelevant but will also make our healthcare delivery system more reliable.
The writer is director, alliances and business development, Research In Motion