31 posts categorized

November 24, 2015

Saving Lives with Mobile Technology



The thought of surgery being performed by a robot might be a bit too close to science fiction for folks to stomach. However, the healthcare industry is quickly approaching the intersection of once far-fetched medical technology and a global need for better healthcare. 

Mobile technology is a huge part of this growing trend in health sectors across the country, and the world. In fact, mobile advancements in healthcare are predicted to play a large role in saving lives, and influencing preventative medicine. Here’s a closer look at some of the specific mobile advancements on the cusp of this fast-approaching technological horizon:


Healthcare and Gamification 

Along with making medical technology more available, creating ways to empower and proactively engage patients for long-term success is just as important as medical prognosis. 

Gamification involves adding game elements to the outpatient process and preventative repertoire to help patients stay on track with a diet, take their medicine, and maintain healthy habits.

We’ve already seen great examples of this in mobile apps like Luminosity, for brain stimulation, and HAPIfork, which monitors healthy eating. By incorporating mobile technology into the medical paradigm, doctors can help patients well after they leave the hospital. 


Comprehensive Communications 

Mobile is also a unique tool in healthcare because of the communication access it delivers and its ability to spread information democratically. The Internet and digital resources play a large roll in this as well, but mobilizing these resources has added millions of new Internet users to the healthcare network.

In 2014, mobile Internet access surpassed desktop usage—in other words, the mobile community is farther-reaching than ever before, making it possible to share, crowdsource, store, and gather pieces of medical information on a globalized network.


Saving Lives 

Aside from these abstract healthcare improvements, mobile technology has the ability to save lives immediately. For example, UNICEF has implemented a mobile communication system in one of the most dangerous and densely populated areas in the world: the Gaza Strip. 

Using mobile technology, school children in these areas are able to attend school more regularly, and safely, by allowing school administrators to communicate with parents directly. School administrators can send out SMS messages warning parents of potential treats, as well as let them know when school will resume. Since 2011, 29 schools have used this program regularly, and more than 11,000 students are benefiting from the results. 

From 3D printing and robotic nurses, to wearable tech and live-streaming surgery, the future may be in fact be closer than we think, and mobile technology has found a relevant niche within this growth to do its part in making the world a healthier and safer place to live. 

November 18, 2015

Lifesaving Mobile Tech Gets Support from Verizon



If there’s on thing most smartphone users don’t expect from their phones, it’s the potential to save lives. But thanks to Verizon, startups focused on lifesaving technologies are getting the opportunity to share their initiatives and compete for a chance to win funding. In fact, 12 startups have already been crowned winners at Verizon’s annual Powerful Answers contest, with specific prize money to be announced Dec. 9 in San Francisco. 

In total contestants stand to win a total of $6 million to bring their lifesaving apps and technologies to life. Fourteen hundred people entered this year, and of the twelve finalists, three are women-led ventures. Here’s more info on a few of the finalists that have a shot at winning this year’s grand prize: 


Drone Lifeguard

That’s right, folks—lifesaving AUVs (unnamed aerial vehicle) anywhere, anytime.  The ‘lifeguard as a service’ model introduced by founder and CEO R.J. Tang is a unique concept for one of the world’s leading causes of unintentional death. Tang and his team are using drones to safely, and more quickly, deploy inflatable life preserves to swimmers who may be drowning. 


Disaster Mesh 

Disaster Mesh helps people affected by a disaster reconnect to vital digital communications. Using small devices shaped like maple seeds, the ‘Mesh’ is literally thrown from the sky and intended to cover a large area with network nodes. Survivors then connect to the network, which delivers simple survival options like “I’m trapped,” “I need medical help,” or “I’m okay, continue to network.” 



This ride-sharing app is all about the family—kids especially. Built for parents, by parents, Pogo connects busy family members with community friends who can provide a trusted ride for children. Users can create private groups as well as run background and DMV checks on members. 



Swiftmile is on a mission to reduce the number of cars on the road, particularly those making short commutes to work. With the Swiftmile Swiftstation, users can enjoy secure, emission free, and economical transportation. The Personal Electronic Transporter (PET) sharing system is designed to help cities, corporations, universities, and other highly congested areas decreases emissions as well as reduce the number of cars on the road. 



Speaking of auto accidents, motorcyclists are often the most at risk when forced to share the road with traditional automobiles. Ganindu Nanayakkara is a software engineer dedicated to ending avoidable motorcycle accidents. The iHelmet was designed to bring safety features for motorcycles into the 21st century at an affordable price. Nanayakkara’s model includes features like blind-spot assist, high-speed alerts, and automated SOS in case of an accident. 

Some of the finalist may save lives through abstract means, while others have the potential to impart significant lifesaving technologies almost immediately. Either way, the startups in Verizon’s contest offer an inspiring use of technology and innovation. 


October 28, 2015

Mobile Tech as CPR Guide


It’s always nice to see technology working for the greater good and not merely motivated by profit. Some apps, like PulsePoint, aren’t working for profit at all—they’re in the business of saving lives. The non-profit app has been endorsed by a number of agencies including the American Heart Association and the Red Cross for delivering updated CPR guidelines and empowering the public to become more than bystanders at the scene of an emergency.  

Did you know that almost sixty perfect of US adults have had training to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) or use an automated external defibrillator (AED)? What’s more, these trained individuals would be willing to put their skills to good use in the event of an emergency. However, it’s been estimated that only 11 percent of these people ever use their training. 

These numbers have become a viable resource in the fight against heart diseases and the struggle to protect patients who succumb to cardiac arrest. Using mobile technology, PulsePoint has modernized the CPR guidelines while finding a way to tap into this trained population. 

In the event that someone goes into cardiac arrest, the time it takes the EMS team or paramedics to arrive can greatly impact that person’s chance of resuscitation. Starting CPR quickly can double and sometimes triple the rate of survival. Now, imagine a well-trained and mobilized populace that could provide assistance during this critical window.


How the App Works 

That’s where PulsePoint comes in. Individuals trained in CPR, or the use of an AED, register with the app and are notified if they’re ever in the proximity of someone experiencing cardiac arrest. The app is also equipped to notify the trained individual where they may locate the nearest public AED. 

Once the EMS workers arrives, they’ll take over—but until then, having help there a few moments sooner could be the difference between life and death. As soon as someone calls 9-1-1 with a cardiac arrest emergency, the app alerts anyone nearby that has installed PulsePoint and is trained in CPR.

The app is already working in cities both big and small, including places like Cleveland and Fargo, North Dakota.

One of the most interesting features of this app is that it has a lot of crossover potential into other areas of public health, education, and security. Depending on how well the app does in assisting with cases of cardiac arrest, we might see variations of this software developed for other civil service functions.  

October 17, 2015

SMS Can Help Suicidal Teens Seek Help


Text messaging is an increasingly popular tool for public and essential services, forming a key part of their armories. Calling 911; reminding patients about doctor’s appointments; putting people in touch with mental health organizations - all these vital tasks can benefit from a communication technology now used more than any other.  

Now, teen suicide prevention has been added to that list.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among teenagers. According to the American Association of Suicidology, close to 5,300 under-24s took their own lives in 2013. Organizations like the Samaritans and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline operate contact centers offering 24/7 support to those in need, but many teens and young adults feel reluctant to make that call. Text messaging is a communication platform they’re comfortable with, at least as a first point of contact. It’s been successfully trialled by the U.S. Department of Veterans affairs for several years, and now the aforementioned suicide help lines are beginning to roll out their own SMS messaging services.

The Samaritans’ Massachusetts branch recently began a text messaging initiative to supplement the traditional phone line. At time of writing, it’s only available between the hours of 3pm-11pm - but it’s a start. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline offers SMS and online assistance at a number of its 160 crisis centers, and has so far found that nearly 40% of people reaching out for help via these channels have indicated they would not feel comfortable seeking help by phone.

Crisis center volunteers are generally young themselves, ranging from 16-30; they understand the language and quirks of text message communication, including grammatical idiosyncrasies and emojis. 

Many of us feel uncomfortable using the phone for even the most basic tasks, so something as important as expressing suicidal thoughts is enough to overwhelm people who are already under a huge amount of stress. Emotions that are hard to convey in a conversation can become clearer when written down. Additionally, text messaging offers a degree of privacy that a phone call cannot. Teens and young people who struggle to find a safe, private place to call a crisis center can turn to SMS messaging as a discreet alternative. If, for instance, a kid is being repeatedly bullied on the school bus, they can communicate with a volunteer even as they face bullies. 

The hope is that these organizations and others will make SMS messaging services as easily and widely available as phone help lines.

September 30, 2015

SMS Is Helping Women in Kenya Track Their Pregnancies


In remote areas of east Africa, regular healthcare for expecting mothers is hard to find. Nairobi, Kenya, for example, is desperately impoverished; the infant mortality rate in this region is one of the highest in Africa, with 40 out of 1000 babies not living past infancy. This is a story Malele Ngalu, marketing director for Kenya-based Totohealth, laments on a personal level. 

Ngalu was born in Africa; his mother faced medical disadvantages that resulted in the loss of his twin brother shortly after birth. Today, Ngalu has teamed up with Felix Kimaru, founder of Totohealth, a free SMS text service to help mothers and their infant children during a five-year program.  

Kimaru has raised more than $50,000 to get his startup off the ground and implemented in several rural areas throughout east Africa. Nairobi was one of the first areas Kimaru and Ngalu tackled, sampling the service to 2,000 parents.

According to Ngalu, most parents don’t realize their infant is sick until it’s too late. 

“We asked the parents why they did not bring the children in when they saw they had a problem, and they said they didn’t know there was one,” he said.


Texting for Health

To combat this problem, Kimaru has developed content to be delivered on a weekly basis via text message. The content relates to various developmental stages (up to the age of 5) as well as women’s health. The texts also advise regular checkups and include ready access to a help desk, where trained medical doctors and nurses are available to answer questions, as well as refer parents to nearby clinics or hospitals.

Since its launch early last year, Totohealth has seen significant user growth across the continent. Word of mouth from the original 2,000 users helped double the number of parents actively using the service in nearly 30 different countries. 

Unlike most developed countries, providing this service via app is not yet possible in east Africa—the infrastructure just doesn’t exist yet. 

“Even in low income settings like Kibera, the majority of people have basic phones,” said Ngalu.  

Most basic phones have the ability to receive and send text messages, so for the time being, SMS is the best way to deliver the information as well as track patient progress.  

According to Kimaru, the parents who use the service have a 96 percent likelihood of attending every recommended checkup and appointment. These kinds of results are getting the attention of large groups like the World Health Organization. 

The other advantage to using text is that it’s relatively inexpensive, costing only about 25 cents a month per user. Right now, county governments are footing the bill for the service, hoping that government policy and social awareness will help drive further change to reform maternal programs.  

Kimaru is looking to raise another $300,000 in funding to expand Totohealth’s operations throughout other parts of Africa. 

September 03, 2015

Infographic: Tackling the Flu with Text Messaging

The flu virus costs our economy billions each year. By promoting vaccinations for workers and children, it's possible to reduce the number of sick days and alleviate the annual burden placed on the healthcare system. We've put together an infographic that highlights the scale of the problem and demonstrates the role text messaging can play in increasing vaccination rates...


August 24, 2015

How SMS Technology is Helping Adult Care Providers


The over-65s will represent 19% of the population by 2030 (compared with 12.4% in 2000). As birth rates fall and life expectancy increases, adult care provision is becoming a major issue in the United States and other developed economies with ageing populations but fewer multi-generational households. The burden of age-relate medical health is growing; simultaneously, the familial structures that once existed to support basic care of elderly relatives is vanishing.

In short, taking care of the over-65s has become a public, not a private, responsibility. Tech developers are well aware of this paradigm shift. New adult care technologies are emerging to help healthcare providers face the challenges presented by dementia, incontinence, immobility and other age-related problems. 

The latest example brings together a variety of tools to help minimize the effects of soiled adult diapers and improve the standard of care for bedridden patients. Using sensors to detect wetness, the system alerts medical staff via SMS messaging.

The ‘intelligent continence management system’ was developed by researchers at the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (IBN) in Singapore. It comprises a thin disposable sensor strip, a compact wireless transmitter and a receiver. Designed to prevent rashes and infections - not to mention discomfort - associated with lying in soiled diapers, the system can be integrated into existing adult diapers. Once wetness reach a pre-determined level, a text message is sent to caregivers, notifying them that action must be taken. 

The prototype was tested on 20 elderly retirement home residents in Singapore back in 2013. It was validated by the Agency for Integrated Care and geriatrician Dr. Philip Yap from Khoo Teck Puat Hospital. Testing demonstrated the system’s reliability, and patients fitted with the system spend 90% less time in wet diapers than those without. 

The company IBN created to market the technology, Wet Alert, won the 2014 Bronze Prize at the Long-Term Care Quality Festival Poster Competition, an event organized by the Ministry of Health and the Agency for Integrated Care.


August 03, 2015

Can Supportive Text Messages Act as Pain Relievers?


An apple a day keeps the doctor away, right? But can a text message do the same thing? Can the use of mobile technology actually reduce perceptions of pain and suffering? That’s exactly what Jamie Guillory, a scientist at the research institute RTI International, set out to discover. 

Guillory and her team designed a study to determine if the use of text messaging throughout the day could impact patient’s chronic pain levels. During a four-week period, participants from various pain clinics were divided into two groups. One group received its regular pain treatment in addition to encouraging messages sent throughout the day for a total of three weeks. The other group received regular pain treatment but did not receive uplifting text messages. The first week was the study’s control—during this time, neither group received text messages.

In addition to receiving texts, the first group was asked to download an app that allowed members to record their pain management, and relate their feelings to images. 


What the Study Said 

The results were fascinating. The group that received regular encouraging text messages recorded a clear reduction in pain during the three-week period following the control week compared to participants who did not receive text messages.  

This study offers valuable insight into the effects of mobile devices on patients’ mindsets. In addition to the positive impact this may have on those who suffer from chronic pain, it’s a useful tool for doctors to learn more about their patients’ behaviors and feelings throughout the process of treatment.  

While this is amazing news for people with chronic pain, the study also considers other factors that may have contributed to a reduction of pain during the three-week period. For example, patients who were married or in a relationship saw more significant pain reduction than patients who were single. The tangible support system maintained by married patients was notably more developed than that of single participants. It was suggested by Guillory that the encouraging text messages only worked well in collaboration with a tangible support system already in place. 

Text messages can only contribute to reducing chronic pain so much. Few things can replace or imitate the genuine love and compassion we feel for those in our family or close circle of friends. People who experience chronic pain are more susceptible to perceiving this pain when their immediate support system is weak, something no amount of mobile interaction can change—yet. 

But the study does highlight hope for a future in which mobile texting and app recording can have a positive role in patient pain management. 


July 30, 2015

Indiana's Text 911 Program Puts the Rest of the US to Shame


If you’re choking or otherwise incapable of speaking into a phone, the ability to send a text to a 911 service is a great thing. Indiana was the first US state to institute a 911 texting program, which is now available in 88 of its 92 counties. It’s highly doubtful it will be the only state to do so on such a massive scale.  

“When it comes to 911, we’ve been able to lead the country for several years with 911 services,” said Barry Ritter, executive director of the Indiana Statewide 911 Board. Fort Wayne-based INdigital telecom is the company behind the designing, building, and operating of the IN911 network for the board. Ritter also said the state features the largest deployment of the service in the country.  

Most US states offer 911 text services in a few of their counties. Illinois, for example, offers the texting service in about five areas within three counties. Verizon Wireless was the first carrier to allow customers to send text messages to 911 emergency responders in counties all over Indiana, with T-Mobile, AT&T, and Sprint following suit. The Indiana Statewide 911 Board notified carriers in May of 2013 that it was ready to accept inbound texts. 


Texting Versus Calling

Calling 911 is still considered the best and most efficient way to reach a dispatcher, and texting should be used only when calling is not a possibility. This is because calling offers an instant response compared to texting. The time required to enter a text, send it over a network and then wait for the dispatcher to write and send a response means emergency services might take longer to reach the afflicted party. Providing location information as well as the type of emergency in the first text is therefore essential. It’s also important not to use abbreviations or slang to keep the emergency message as straightforward and clear as possible.  

Statistics obtained since May of 2014 show that eight 911 dispatchers in Indiana have received more than 50 emergency text messages, while 30 dispatch centers received fewer than 50 emergency texts. These numbers indicate that residents are using the service but are not flooding dispatch centers with text messages. It also shows that people are using the service when appropriate. 

If you reside in Indiana or another state where using 911 text messaging is an option, it’s important to keep a few basic guidelines in mind. Texting should be used only when calling is not possible, i.e. if the victim is deaf, speech-impaired, choking or in a situation when speaking is unsafe, such as during a home invasion or abduction. For example, earlier this month an Indianapolis woman texted that she was being abducted, which resulted in her rescue by police on Interstate 70 in Vigo County. The abduction helped raise awareness about 911 texting as a viable solution in emergency situations.  

Additionally, in order to send a successful emergency text, the victim must have a text messaging program on his or her phone and send the message to a 911 call center or Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) that accepts emergency text messages. 


July 15, 2015

Swedish Blood Donors Receive Thank You Text Messages for Successful Transfusions


Around the world, blood donation rates are at an all-time low. Britain has 40% fewer donors today than 10 years ago (according to the NHS). In the United States, only three out of every one-hundred people donate blood. The latest statistics from Executive Healthcare (EHM) shows that about 60% of the American populace is eligible to give blood, but only 5% of the people elect to give. This is a difficult problem because, despite the necessity to maintain a healthy blood supply, the Red Cross needs to find clever ways to convince donors to give.

In recent news, the Stockholm blood service may have come upon an excellent way to increase donations. If you donate blood in Sweden, you are sent an SMS text message each time your donated blood is used to save a life. The SMS texts go on to report on the impact of their donations, which can help to motivate donors as well. These “thank you” texts have created not only a way to make donors feel good about their altruism, it also is a subtle way to remind donors to come back for another donation at a later date. 

The program has been lauded as a success. Swedish citizens who participate have reported that they feel more appreciated once receiving the SMS text messages. Furthermore, donors often share the news with their peers via social media.

The outreach of the Stockholm blood service doesn’t stop there, though. Other text messages are sent to people who’ve donated before to remind them when they are eligible to donate again. In addition, the blood service has been using Facebook and email reminders to reach their potential donors as well. And it doesn’t hurt when they add light-hearted messages like “We won’t give up until you bleed.” Donors have shared that they appreciate these texts as well, since people often forget to donate amid their busy schedules.

Finally, on Stockholm blood service’s website, they have a chart giving a running total of how much blood of each type is left in stock. The idea is that if people know that the blood service is in need, then the people will be more likely to give.

There’s scientific proof that these techniques work. In a study by Johns Hopkins, researchers examined a Facebook initiative that allowed friends to share their organ donations in their status updates – the study observed a 21-fold increase of organ donor registrations in a single day! 

While this program currently only exists in Stockholm, it is likely that similar programs will be rolled-out throughout Sweden. Other countries, like Britain and the United States, are searching for similar techniques to get people to donate. The NHS Blood and Transplant service in the UK is looking to create some viral advertisements to increase donor turnout. Only time will tell how much these programs actually do to increase donor turnout but, in the meantime, we can all agree that SMS text messages and social media have proven to be excellent means to motivate the general public.