Strengthening Health Systems with mHealth

by Ray Brunsting, CTO, Tula Foundation

As I travelled to the Global mHealth Forum in Washington last week, I was happy to hear on the radio that over 98% of diagnostic images in Canada and now managed digitally. Having spent the first part of my career helping to make this possible, it was both encouraging to hear and sobering to consider how long it has taken: the diagnostic imaging transition in Canada started 25 years ago! While I’m certain there were many skeptics and spectacular failures along the way, in hindsight, it was only a matter of time. There is no longer any doubt that digital diagnostic imaging can enable better quality patient care and reduce long term costs, even though this is not always the case.

2014 Global mHealth Forum

As I attended some of the many excellent sessions at the two day Global mHealth Forum, I could not help but wonder if mHealth will follow a hype cycle similar to diagnostic imaging and, if so, where mHealth currently sits along the hype curve: trough of disillusionment, slope of enlightenment, both, neither? It was encouraging to hear about successful mHealth solutions, like MomConnect in South Africa, being adopted by ministries of health and deployed at national scale. While, at the same time, many mHealth projects are not meeting expectations: an evening session was dedicated to hearing about about mHealth failures.

As I reflect on what was discussed last week, I’m confident that we are heading in the right direction in Guatemala, and optimistic that mHealth will play an important role in strengthening health systems as mHealth continues to mature. It will not happen overnight and there will be many missteps along the way, but it will happen. Here are some of the reasons for my optimism:

  • Our mHealth work in Guatemala (Kawok) is part of an integrated long term approach that includes a strong focus on educating, training and supporting nurses, doctors and community health workers
  • We are following the 9 Principles for Digital Development adopted by leading international donors, and presented at the forum
  • Through our partnership with DASAV (The Ministry of Health in Alta Verapaz) and other local partners, we are developing solutions that are addressing and meeting local needs
  • Through our partnership with Dimagi, a leading mHealth technology provider, we are developing and deploying solutions that are technically scalable, sustainable and effective

Although 2014 has been a challenging year for everyone involved in primary care in rural Guatemala, I’m optimistic that 2015 will continue to see Tula and TulaSalud working together with our partners to strengthen the Guatemalan health system, and that mHealth will play an appropriate role in this work.

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