Ivar Mendez, University
of Saskatchewan: Mobile health devices can improve health care access in
developing countries, remote regions
July 8, 2013
Mobile health technology has substantial potential for improving access
to health care in the developing world and in remote regions of
developed countries, states an article in CMAJ (Canadian Medical
In many countries, access to health care is hampered by lack of medical
professionals and health care infrastructure, limited or poor equipment,
sporadic power and other obstacles. However, the development of
remote-presence medical devices can help fill this void by connecting
people in remote locations with experienced health care professionals
for real-time assessment.
Smartphones, tablets and other consumer devices are being used in health
care, but applications are limited because of processing capacity,
privacy issues and signal variability.
"The next step in the evolution of mobile telemedicine is the
development of portable, dedicated medical communication devices capable
of providing real-time remote presence and transmission of
diagnostic-quality medical data from a range of peripheral diagnostic
devices that will allow point-of-care therapeutic intervention," writes
Dr. Ivar Mendez, University of Saskatchewan, with coauthor.
Pilot tests by the authors using a mobile-presence device in the remote
Bolivian Andes mountains with pregnant women allowed an obstetrician in
Halifax to monitor the baby's heartbeat, communicate with the mother and
conduct a complete prenatal ultrasound with the help of an onsite nurse.
"Mobile remote-presence devices for telemedicine have the potential to
change the way health care is delivered in developed and developing
nations," write the authors. "The availability of cellular network
signals around the globe and rapidly increasing bandwidth will provide
the telecommunication platform for a wide range of mobile telemedicine
applications. The use of low-cost, dedicated remote-presence devices
will increase access to medical expertise for anybody living in a
geographical area with a cellphone signal."
There are some barriers to implementation of these solutions, such as
perceived high costs (about $25 000 for the device plus connectivity
charges) as well as medical liability, patient confidentiality,
physician payment and other policy issues. However, the public's
appetite for these solutions and the promise they have for improving
access to health care may help remove barriers for remote-presence
medicine in remote communities.
switch from the current model of centralized diagnosis in large medical
facilities to point-of-care diagnosis could dramatically increase
medical efficacy by removing barriers of time and distance, reducing
wait times and decreasing the cost of health care delivery," state the
As the rapid advance of technology continues to transform many areas of
society, the medical field will see increasingly sophisticated tools and
devices to improve point-of-care diagnosis.
"Although mobile telemedicine may be applied initially to emergency
situations, remote locations and the developing world, its major impact
may be in the delivery of primary health care. We can envision the use
of mobile remote-presence devices by allied health personnel in a wide
range of scenarios, from home care visits to follow-up sessions for
mental health care, in which access to medical expertise in real time
would be just a phone call away," the authors conclude.