Improving the Reach of Healthcare through Mobile Technology

Posted by Tony Hey
Corporate Vice President, Microsoft External Research, a division of Microsoft Research

Technology can do many wonderful things, from making businesses more productive to providing entertainment, but above all, technology can help solve challenges that are critical to society. Providing adequate healthcare to people in developing countries is one such challenge, and it’s a challenge Microsoft Research has been engaged in for many years – through sponsorship of studies with partners to develop mobile healthcare solutions that can be applied widely and cost effectively, regardless of economic conditions.

This is a passion Microsoft Research shares with numerous partners and institutions, including such organizations as the Gates Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. It’s why we are serving as a sponsor of the mHealth Summit again this year—and why we are thrilled that our colleague Kristin Tolle, director of Natural User Interactions at Microsoft Research, will be interviewing Bill Gates during a keynote this afternoon.

The 2010 mHealth Summit, being held Nov. 8-10 at the Washington (D.C.) Convention Center, will bring together hundreds of experts focused on exploring the use of mobile technologies to transform health care in the United States and the developing world.

We are doing this by working with partners to conduct research that addresses real healthcare needs in countries around the world, from Africa to Australia. Case in point: Microsoft Research supported the work of Australian physician Jim Black and his colleagues at the University of Melbourne who are using Microsoft technology to develop a suite of smartphone-based applications for use by health workers, including a tool aimed at one of the world’s biggest killers—pneumonia. Worldwide, pneumonia kills at least 1.8 million people each year according to the World Health Organization, many of them children in Africa. Sadly, many of these deaths could be avoided if the disease were properly diagnosed and treated.

In a modern hospital setting, physicians can use chest X-rays, lab tests, blood-oxygen measurements, and other diagnostic tools to explore the many causes of respiratory illness. In a remote African village, few such tools are available to determine if a child’s fever and shortness of breath are caused by pneumonia, malaria, or another infectious disease. Most health workers in Mozambique, though, do carry mobile phones. With financial, software, and hardware support from Microsoft Research, Black and his colleagues have developed an inexpensive, smartphone-powered “oximeter” they believe can give health workers a front-line tool in the battle against pneumonia.

Since 2004, this is but one of more than 20 mHealth projects that have been funded by Microsoft Research more information can be found at the Health & Wellbeing devices, sensors and mobility Website. 

In addition to such projects, I am pleased to report that, with our latest Health and Wellbeing Awards, Microsoft Research continues to apply state-of-the-art mobile technologies to the delivery of health care in rural or at-risk African communities. These awards support five mobile healthcare studies that focus on education, remote data collection, and remote patient monitoring. The winning projects aim to help the scientific community identify and understand the genetic and molecular markers of diseases such as AIDS, malaria and Alzheimer’s; help patients cope with such disorders as cardiovascular disease and diabetes; and provide healthcare applications in third-world countries to help people receive the best possible treatment.

We believe there is an unprecedented opportunity to apply mobile technology to improve public health, and we are committed to collaborating with computer scientists, researchers, and healthcare professionals to accelerate the development and testing of such technologies.

Please watch Kristin Tolle’s interview with Bill Gates at 1 p.m. EST. For more information about the mHealth Summit and other Microsoft Research Health and Wellbeing projects visit the website.

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