Doctors use simple texts to deliver better healthcare in developing world
Healthcare can be difficult to access for rural residents in the developing world. Medic Mobile provides cell phones to health workers loaded with special SIM card-based software to connect them with the people they serve. SmartPlanet correspondent Sumi Das speaks with Josh Nesbit, the company's CEO.
>> Sumi Das: More than a billion people in the developing world will never see a doctor in their lifetime. But although they don't have medical care, what they do have is access to a cell phone and nearby healthcare workers. Enter Medic Mobile. The San Francisco startup is working to provide communication tools for doctors, patients, and community health workers through simple text messaging. Here to explain more is Josh Nesbit, CEO of Medic Mobile. Josh, thanks for being with us.
>> Josh Nesbit: Thanks for having me.
>> Sumi Das: So quality healthcare in the developing world is a big problem as we mentioned, due to the lack of doctors and clinics, especially in rural areas. So what is the cure that Medic Mobile proposes?
>> Josh Nesbit: So I'll give one example. In rural Malawi, patients were walking or ox carting, 100 miles to see one doctor. So what we did is we equipped 100 community health workers in surrounding villages with mobile phones and solar panels, and over just six months, the hospital doubled the number of patients who they were treating for tuberculosis, because they were simply getting text messages about who had symptoms that were matched to TB. They even went to emergency response systems for the very first time, so 200 people saw care who would have never been seen otherwise. And they were doing things like patient tracing, so finding people in HIV and TB programs who weren't showing up for appointments. They were saving thousands of dollars in motorcycle fuel and thousands of hours of time, just in six months with a really simple text messaging system.
>> Sumi Das: Now, you brought something with you that is a piece of hardware, and makes your technology, makes Medic Mobile possible. Tell us what it is. Can you show it to us?
>> Josh Nesbit: Sure. So we were doing a lot of text messaging around 2009-2010, and then we wanted to do more complicated applications, but we had to use $10 really simple funds. And we figured out a way to do that, using this, which is a parallel SIM. So this is a piece of hardware that's thin enough to slide in next to an existing SIM card, and this parallel SIM runs our applications, and the existing SIM card ties into the mobile network.
>> Sumi Das: So you don't need a Smartphone, you don't need the latest version of the iPhone?
>> Josh Nesbit: No, we use $10 phones that are already in the hands of our patients and health workers. In sub Saharan Africa, fully 50% of people own a personal cell phone. That'll be 100% in a year and a half.
>> Sumi Das: You just returned from Nepal. Can you tell us how you use the technology there?
>> Josh Nesbit: Sure. So in Nepal, I was walking ten hours along mountain ridges to the nearest villages, and no one there had seen a doctor or heard from a government official in years, but I had six bars of mobile signal. And it's a really difficult situation. One in twenty women area dying in childbirth, and fully one out of every three kids are not making it to the first birthday. But if we can do really simple things, like track every pregnancy, monitor every danger sign during those pregnancies and make sure that high-risk women get access to facility-based care, we can save those lives.
>> Sumi Das: Without this technology, what is the alternative. Are they just going untreated? Are they self-treating, self-medicating?
>> Josh Nesbit: The status quo is that people are fending for their own, and community health workers are doing the best that they can to provide disconnected care.
>> Sumi Das: How many people are using Medic Mobile right now, and in how many countries?
>> Josh Nesbit: So right now we've equipped 6,000 community health workers across 15 countries in Africa and Asia, and we estimate that that's changed patient care for about half a million people.
>> Sumi Das: How are you gauging the impact that you're having with Medic Mobile, and what do those results show so far?
>> Josh Nesbit: So we've already demonstrated efficiency in process outcomes, so we know that remote consultations and stock monitoring happens 100 times faster and four times cheaper using our systems. We've shown that at national scale in countries like Malawi. What we shifted to now is looking at health outcomes, so we're doing randomized controlled trials, looking at control and treatment arms, to show that we are actually moving the needle on health outcomes. So we're showing that more children get vaccinations under one year in rural India, thanks to use of our mobile tools.
>> Sumi Das: Have you been able to quantify that?
>> Josh Nesbit: That will be quantified, so we're at six months of that trial in India, and we'll be back in touch maybe in the comments section to post those results.
>> Sumi Das: Okay. Josh Nesbit of Medic Mobile, thank you so much for chatting with us today.
>> Josh Nesbit: My pleasure.
>> Sumi Das: For SmartPlanet, I'm Sumi Das. Thanks for watching.