Tag Archives: surveillance

Mobile Health and the Inter-American Development Bank

In a previous post, More on Mobile Phones, I discussed the potential for mobile phones to change the way the development community approaches global health. The Inter-American Development Bank, Science and Technology Division just released an excellent white paper entitled Mobile Health: The potential for mobile telephony to bring healthcare to the majority. According to the IDB, “there is no invention that has provided more distinct opportunities in innovation for development than the mobile phone.” The paper identifies 6 categories for innovation:

  • Surveillance – PDA-based data collection and disease monitoring
  • Information – appointment and prescription reminders
  • Consultation – information on waiting times or questions on STDs, for example
  • Education – primary care behavior information
  • Monitoring – chronic disease severity information
  • Diagnostic – remote diagnostic assistance

Mobile health is becoming an important component in the current movement to consumer-centric care, allowing greater interactivity between patient and provider, enabling remote care and notification, increasing accessibility of health information, and facilitating chronic disease management. The value chain below illustrates how comprehensive an effect mobile health could have on delivering additional value to health consumers. Mobile networks have access to all paricipants in the health system–patients, doctors, administrators, etc.–and mobile telephony, as a systems integrator, has the potential to connect the health system to healthcare providers, pharma industry, high-tech industry, and handset manufacturers. All of these have the potential to deliver increased value to citizens.


The document ends with some great additional resources which I will re-post here:


health, crowds, and data mining

Google released Google Flu Trends yesterday, which analyzes search terms for indicators of flu activity. With the onset of flu season, people start searching for keywords such as “flu vaccine” which Google detects and charts. The example below reveals that we are just a couple weeks away from a time of year that has experienced a large outbreak:

Google Flu Trends Sample

The true genius behind this system is that Google is not directly involved in data collection. Data is collected passively as searches are submitted by users. Incredibly, Google Flu Trends reliably performs flu surveillance up to 2 weeks faster than the CDC (US Center for Disease Control)! For details on Google’s tracking method, check out their blog post Tracking Flu Trends.

In a similar fashion, David Bates of Harvard Medical School is creating an epidemic surveillance system that analyzes electronic health records of several Boston-area medical centers every night. When an outbreak is in the works, not all the sick people go to one hospital. 2 might show up at one hospital and 3 at another. The next day several more go. By the time authorities are aware of an outbreak, it is weeks too late. Performing surveillance on data from several hospitals simultaneously greatly expands quantity of information available and can potentially prevent outbreaks from occurring.

Data mining in health that transcends a single unit (like a hospital) has only just begun. Personal health record systems like Google Health and Microsoft HealthVault optionally aggregate health data from a variety of sources (e.g. hospitals, clinics, insurers, pharmacies). Determining health trends is one of Google’s primary goals with this system:

Google will use aggregate data to publish trend statistics and associations. (http://www.google.com/intl/en-US/health/privacy.html)

Once again, while Google and Microsoft are both investing heavily in platform development and partner recruitment, the data is entered, imported, and managed by the consumer. For an interesting post on the positive and negative ramifications of Google Health, check out Tree of Knowledge.