Telehealth Faces Challenges Worldwide

In developing countries, low cost wireless biometric sensors and cell phone technologies are being developed to monitor and screen patients.
But even in the U.S., where affordability of mobile healthcare applications is often much less an issue, various mobile and other new healthcare-related innovations "will be gone in three years" because use by patients will fade, whether it's cell phone apps that provide dietary information or other various telemetry monitoring apps, predicts Celi.

"Unless these apps stick to patients and result in better outcomes, they're likely to go away, said Celi.

Also, in developing nations as well as the U.S., less is better--whether it is the amount of information patients are asked to provide and enter or instructions they are asked to follow. "You need to make these applications as easy as possible," Haberer said.

Also, the ways cell phones are used in different countries also affect how telehealth applications can be best used, she said.

For instance, cell phones are often shared among many individuals in poor countries, so having users answer questions like how many pills they took of their medication isn't a simple process if others are also using the phones, she said.

"We went through a lot of processes to understand the end users and the context of how these devices are used, also considering many users are illiterate," she said.

Still even in the U.S., there are still discoveries being made on how different individuals and demographics can best use smartphones and other mobile devices for health related issues.

For example, common stereotypes often don't apply. While conventional wisdom might say that elderly people tend not to use smartphones, some research indicates that elderly patients who have grandchildren of a certain age--probably those kids old enough to have smartphones of their own--are more likely to use the devices.

As for privacy, many patients in developing nations aren't freaked out by the notion that someone else can monitor their health with mobile devices, said Haberer. "In some African countries they love [the idea that] how someone wants to spend time and money to help them get better," she said.

Other challenges include the lack of facilities and clinicians to monitor patients or offer care when there is a medical crisis. So, a lot of the monitoring devices might have more potential inside clinics, Haberer said.

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