Using Mobile Technology to Extend Health Care’s Reach

Posted by Kristin Tolle 
Director, External Research and Programs

At Microsoft Research we believe there are abundant opportunities for mobile technologies to improve public health, particularly in underserved communities. In areas short on health care facilities or medical staff, mobile phones have the reach to help diagnose and treat illness. We believe so strongly in this idea, in the fall of 2007 we solicited proposals from academic researchers who shared our vision and began funding projects in early 2008.

Our call for proposals caught the attention of the National Institutes of Health, which shares our interest in the potential health care applications of mobile devices. We decided to work together to organize an event that would build on the momentum created by successful implementations of cellular-based solutions to accelerate improvements in global public health using mobile devices.

Out of those discussions was born the mHealth Summit, which takes place in Washington, D.C., this Thursday and Friday.

The response to the event has been overwhelming. Initially we expected a few hundred researchers and policy makers to attend.  We rapidly exceeded our event “cap” and now have over 650 researchers and health care experts gathering to explore how the world’s 6.5 billion people can gain access to better health care with the assistance of mobile technology. Clearly this is an idea whose time has come. 
The meeting is a great opportunity for leaders in policy and medical sectors to connect and discuss approaches for transforming health care.  But labs of computer scientists can also help. 
My group Microsoft Research sponsors university research exploring how cell phones can help people in remote areas of China manage their diabetes through a tool for monitoring and adhering to treatment plans.

Another project in the Australian Outback enables fetal heart rate monitoring with smart phones. Interestingly, this project has caught the attention of the State of Washington Health Department to monitor at-risk pregnancies in rural areas. This is exactly the type of success we hope to achieve—the creation of tools that are broadly deployable and proven to improve medical outcomes. 
Other projects turn the typical cell phone into a sort of “server” that can be attached to medical devices, such as microscopes and sonar devices used for ultrasound exams.  Patient data is then sent from remote areas directly to doctors and nurses miles away. These are a few examples of the projects we’re investing in that will be on display at the mHealth Summit.

To learn more about the event or watch Web casts of the presentations,  visit the Microsoft ResearchmHealth Summit Web site.


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