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Chapter 18 - Switched on Using mobile phones to deliver Information Therapy

DrAnkit Khambhati, CEO,

CheenyKum, a division of Exemplar Lifecare Pvt. Ltd.

Dev, a business consultant, uses his smart phone to send his blood glucose readings and insulin dosage titration schedule to prevent hypoglycemia, with the help of a mobile application provided by a disease management web portal he subscribes to. Far away in Santa Rosa USA, Michelle, a 35- year-old homemaker with polycystic ovaries, uses her mobile chat to communicate with her personal health manager seated in a hi-tech call centre in Mumbai, who tracks her lifestyle and motivates her to comply with her medications and diet regime. In Udaipur, parents of children going to a public school receive SMSes on health check-up reminders, wellness tips, and recipes for healthy options for their children's tiffin boxes.

Information Therapy or evidence-based health information has been proven to motivate patients and trigger behavioural changes, which is important in preventing and managing non-communicable diseases like cancer, diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. Globally, mobile health solutions are offered in a variety of formats:

  • Health awareness and prevention e.g. text messaging;
  • Healthcare management e.g. disease monitoring; and
  • Healthy lifestyle e.g. promotion of fitness and wellness.

The power of mobile phone services must not be underestimated. For example, studies have shown that a mobile phone counselling service could help people with HIV to stop smoking (in the short term). Patients who availed of this service were four times more likely to quit cigarettes for seven days as compared to patients who did not. Interestingly, such counselling also substantially increased the chances of patients quitting smoking completely. It is clear that mobile phones are an effective medium and can be used to reach out to patients with different ailments.

India has over 700 million mobile phone subscribers, and with mobiles becoming cheaper, the number of subscribers is growing rapidly. Worldwide, the number is 4 billion. Today, every mobile handset is capable of at least sending and receiving SMSes in different languages. With emerging 3G and 4G spectrums offering uninterrupted data services and seamless video chats on mobile phones, visiting clinics for common ailments and check-ups will soon become old- fashioned. While data security concerns with m-health applications loom large, the success of m-commerce in the retail sector is quite encouraging.

It is not only the patient who is going to benefit from smart phones! Information Therapy works only if the healthcare provider is well informed. For the doctor, the Tablet can be the new clinic, with tools like online CME, online video consultation, electronic health records, and medical device integration. Similarly, social media, viral videos, and application downloads can be the new mantra for pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturers, both for creating patient awareness and for marketing to doctors. Mobile applications for e-opinion, e-investigation, anthropometry, and disease monitoring could be used by the healthcare insurance industry for better risk underwriting. With the evolution of e- commerce, clinics, hospitals, diagnostic centres, and Third Party Administrators (TPAs) can collect payments through the phone, making it easier for patients to pay for healthcare services at the point-of-care, thus improving efficiency.

Communication is evolving rapidly. Mobile phones no longer simply serve the standard purpose of answering and receiving calls. In the healthcare world, mobile phones can be effectively used to facilitate better communication between healthcare professionals and their colleagues and patients. Information Therapy and m-health are all set to revolutionize healthcare delivery in India and globally. Yes, there are many challenges, but the clever use of technology can help to overcome these hurdles.