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Android Helps Mobile Health Apps Get Well

Sarah Thomas
4/22/2010
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In developing countries where mobile phones are the most common device for Net access, mobile health (mHealth) applications are taking on a new importance. According to researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), open-source mobile platforms are equally as important to closing the healthcare divide.

The MIT group, Sana, which this week won the first mHealth Alliance award, said that Google (Nasdaq: GOOG)'s Android OS was the group's first choice to make mHealth as affordable and accessible as possible.

"There was an underlying commitment among the developers to work in open source," says Trishan Panch, who runs strategy and operations for Sana. "Our key objective is to lower the acquisition costs of resources in resource-poor settings."

The group developed software that lets community health workers and physicians capture and send low-cost data transfers of secure electronic medical records from their Android phone using the 3G network or WiFi. By uploading the medical data to a central server, medical experts can be alerted to examine medical information and compare it to a patient's history. Treatment or referral can then be acquired in the same day. Sana is in discussions with organizations in the Philippines, India, Mexico, and North Carolina, Panch said.

As an open-source platform, users can download code online and install it in any Android handset and, eventually, on open-source Symbian mobile phones. Sana is working with public-health specialists, social entrepreneurs and MIT's own developers to make it as cheap and systematic as possible, Panch says. Right now that means making the software more user friendly and waiting for Android handsets to fall in price. Panch says that interest is already coming in from a number of outlets, including wireless operators.

"As networks enjoy really good penetration and the handset and chipset costs come down, they need other apps to drive traffic on the network," Panch says. "Health is a big driver in that point of view. Wireless phones with connectivity are a really cost effective form of computing in rural areas."

— Sarah Reedy, Senior Reporter, Light Reading Mobile

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