Mobile Health Saves Lives in India

Swathsya Slate

Android-powered medical technology is saving the lives of Indian mothers—and providing but another example of how necessity is allowing mobile health and other cutting-edge medtech to perhaps do more in the developing world than the developed.

In 2011, eight women in rural Muktsar, India, died of eclampsia, a leading cause of maternal death in that country. Eclampsiacauses convulsions, often followed by coma, in pregnant women who suffer from high blood pressure.

The following year, biomedical engineer Kanav Kahol and his team headed to the South Punjab district armed with backpacks full of solar-powered telemedicine devices. They distributed the devices to district health workers, who tested more than 1,000 pregnant women. One hundred twenty tested positive foreclampsia, and all survived, according to a report in Quartz India.

Kahol’s affordable technologies team at the Public Health Foundation of India developed the device, called the SwasthyaSlate (swasthya is Hindi for health). It allows healthcare workers to conduct 33 diagnostic tests via Android tablets and phones. It has integrated blood pressure, blood sugar, heart rate, ECG, and body temperature units, and specialized apps, including decision-support tools for healthcare workers.

The device stores electronic medical records on the phone or tablet and also pushes the data onto the cloud, allowing offline/online operations and doctor-on-call services, the foundation’s website says. Results can be printed immediately on the device’s portable thermal printer or another Android-compatible printer, and sent to patients via SMS, automated phone calls, and emails.

The system works in four languages common in India, translating questions into the patient’s language. The system, which can be updated remotely, gives real-time usage information to managers.

Frontline health workers in remote locations can leave messages, ask questions, and provide answers in a moderated forum via the device. Workers at a call center can contact the users to ask for feedback, solve technology issues and provide basic support. This allows for continuous professional development and increased use and data reporting, according to the public health foundation.

Vancouver-based LionsGate Technologies has developed a similar device specifically targeting a patient base comprised of pregnant women, newborns and children in the developing world.

Sometimes developing world innovations end up being of use in wealthier nations. Through its acquisition of St. Paul-based Corventis, Medtronic plans to bring a heart-failure monitoring patch first used in India to the developed market around the end of 2014 or early 2015, for example.

Access to diagnostics is limited in India, but cellular networks are widespread. India has 0.7 physicians per 1,000 people, compared with 2.5 in the United States and 1.9 in China, according to the World Bank.

“The idea was to democratize diagnostics so that everyone has access to good healthcare,” Kahol told Quartz India. “Right now this field is monopolized by very few players.”

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