Why is the mHealth market failing to properly assess infection control risks?

A group of Stanford students developing the OScan device have been awarded 2nd prize, $200,000 and $50,000 worth of marketing support from the mHealth Alliance and Vodafone Americas Foundation.

Checking out the OScan project page and it strikes me that there is no mention of infection control. Instead we just learn that a group of US students “built a prototype scanner and took it to India for field testing”.

The project highlights once again an attitude that seems to exist amongst US University based efforts to innovate with a “let’s go test this in unregulated emerging markets first” attitude. It’s rather depressing as you only need a very basic healthcare education to realise there are major infection control issues involved with any multiuse device that’s going to be placed in the proximity to the oral cavity:

Poorer nations of the world will be looking to the work of leading US Universities so let’s make this clear: even if the patients you are “treating” are very poor and unrepresented you should be providing them with a device that is sterilised between patients OR is single use/disposable.

I have a genuine concern that the practice being suggested here could expose patients and care providers to a risk of infection and illness that may be greater than the positive health benefits of the screening procedure.

In my opinion Stanford School of Medicine, the mHealth Alliance and the Vodafone Americas Foundation should be careful about promoting images that show poor hygiene standards.

The project also positions itself as an attempt to tackle the high prevalence of oral cancer amongst poor nations that have high levels of tobacco use:

“70% of the world’s tobacco consumption comes from developing countries and is sharply rising, leading to a large number of deadly diseases, including oral cancer. Early detection and treatment of these diseases can dramatically improve survival rates”

I’m afraid I’m not convinced this is an effect strategy to this major problem as not only do the students claim their product is designed for use in markets where there is “only one dentist for every 250,000 residents” but it’s also not going to impact on all of the other smoking/tobacco related deaths.

We should be careful not to let cool smartphone technologies distract anyone from the much bigger preventative opportunities (for example controls on tobacco advertising, sale and use) that can also be greatly aided by Mobile – the newest mass media (eg. campaigns rewarding the public with free mobile credit if they send in pictures of a retailer selling bidis to kids).

Ending on a couple of big positives.

1. How about a disposable OScan that you could post out to citizens for them to use as part of an annual at home health check with the scan posted up into their HealthVault account? I don’t have a scan of my mouth and for $10 I’d definitely put my mobile in it and give it a shot.

I could imagine enterprising dentists could start sending them out free of charge to prospective clients in the hope that they’ll get the chance to quote for some new business.

2. First prize and $300,00 in the awards went to a team from University of California Riverside lead by Dr Eamonn Keogh for a mobile connected “Bug Sensor”. The press were amazed when Samsung gave mobiles to Elephants but this new technology is literally adding mobile connectivity to mosquitos! I can imagine this opening up huge new opportunities to monitor and control disease. In 10 years time I can’t imagine there will be a intercontinental passenger airplane that won’t have a technology like this onboard.

Eamonn is also a very gifted communicator – check out the inspirational video he’s shared outlining the approach his team is taking to generate positive change from data…

About David Doherty

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4 Responses to Why is the mHealth market failing to properly assess infection control risks?

  1. A great blog, well balanced look at some of the opportunities and challenges that Mhealth in the developing world will have to contend with. I think it’s important that we don’t miss out on some of the basics of prevention – such as advertising controls that are of proven benefit

  2. Pingback: Infection control sidelined in rush to mobile? « mHealth Insight: the blog of 3G Doctor

  3. Pingback: Nokia joins Qualcomm in search of the Tricorder « mHealth Insight: the blog of 3G Doctor

  4. Pingback: Why do some Doctors ignore Infection Control issues when experimenting with mHealth on the poor? | mHealth Insight: the blog of 3G Doctor

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