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Mobile Medic – a technological solution for expanding healthcare access » Women's Courage

Mobile Medic – a technological solution for expanding healthcare access

February 23rd, 2012 by archana Leave a reply »

For women in most of the developing world, poverty is plagued by disease and little access to medical care. The World Health organization estimates that there is a deficit of 4.3 million healthcare workers worldwide. Sub-Saharan Africa alone contains 36 countries with a deficit of health workers and adequate healthcare. Malawi is perhaps one of the worst in that region. Malawi, a small nation in eastern Africa, is considered one of the poorest countries in the world. In the 2009 Human Development Index, Malawi ranked 160 out of 182 countries, and an estimated 53% of the population lives below the poverty line. These devastating conditions have had a very significant impact on the well being of the women and children in Malawi. In fact, there are only 1.1 doctors for every 100,000 individuals in the country. These shortages are further exacerbated by the difficulties in travel.  Many clinics serve large areas without adequate transportation means or infrastructure leading to decreased patient-doctor interaction. Community Health Workers (CHW) are currently utilized to alleviate this problem. These community representatives are trained in primary care, but must travel large distances for replenishing medical supplies and reporting emergency situations.

It is these conditions that sparked the idea for a mobile healthcare platform in the mind of the founding developer, John Nesbit. In 2007, while completing his undergraduate degree at Stanford, he travelled to Malawi and was appalled to find that doctors would travel over 35 miles a week simply for patient records.  This became the basis for the mobile healthcare platform called Mobile Medic. The program focuses on increasing the communication between CHW and physicians to increase outcomes and access to healthcare for many patients. Cell phones are increasingly being used in Africa and therefore can be utilized as a communication mechanism for this program.

Mobile Medic is based on a free, open-source software in which doctors can remotely access patient records and send alerts to the CHWs. The platform has 5 main objectives: notify clinic of referrals, current status of patient, expand emergency care access, reminders for appointments, and drug information. The program was first test launched at St. Gabriel’s Hospital, which serves over 250,000 patients who are mostly rural farmers. 75 CHWs were given and trained to use inexpensive ($10), refurbished cell phones. In the six month pilot study, the program showed promising results with an estimated $3000 saved in fuel costs and approximately 2.048 hours of the workers time saved. The entire pilot study costed a mere $275.

In addition to the mobile platform, Mobile Medic has also begun partnering with the Ozcan Lab in UCLA for remote testing devices. The lab developed a $15 LED camera that can be hooked up to any cell phone and take a holographic image of a blood sample. This image can then be sent via text to the main clinic for blood diagnosis. While this device is still in the development stage, it holds a lot of promise for the future development of Mobile Medic and remote healthcare.

Mobile Medic has now been expanded to 70% of Malawi’s districts and twelve countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. The current results show a four-fold decrease in cost with a 112 time increase in efficiency.  The organization has been partnering with Hope Phones to donate inexpensive phones to these people in Africa. Despite the large advancements that Mobile Medic has made, its founders are aware that the problem of healthcare access is much larger. Yet, Mobile Medic is an effective solution to begin to increase healthcare access to most poor communities in this world, and through this decrease the gender disparity in access to healthcare  worldwide.


Asuncion, Kevin. “Text Messages That Save Lives with Josh Nesbit of Medic Mobile.” Care2 Causes. 2 Aug. 2011. Web. 24 Feb. 2012.

Bulkley, Kate. “Fast Mobile-based Messaging Service Boosts Healthcare and Cuts Costs | Activate.” Guardian. 18 June 2010. Web. 24 Feb. 2012.

Mahmud, Nadim, Joce Rodriguez, and Josh Nesbit. “A Text Message-based Intervention to Bridge the Healthcare Communication Gap in the Rural Developing World.” Technology and Health Care: Official Journal of the European Society for Engineering and Medicine 18.2 (2010): 137–144. Web. 24 Feb. 2012.

Pain, Parotima. “SMS Based Medic Mobile Helps Bridge Healthcare Communication Gap.” AudienceScapes. 2 Dec. 2011. Web. 24 Feb. 2012.

“Population Below Poverty Line.” CIA- World Factbook. Web. 24 Feb. 2012.

Sutila, Tamara. “Malawi Anual Report.” Unicef. Web. 24 Feb. 2012.



  1. will says:

    In this age of social media, we might find it hard to believe that information is so hard to access in countries like malawi. I think that this intervention is truly ground-breaking and has the potential to improve patient doctor communication in very under developed countries. I know that when I saw the digitization of records here in the US as I grew up, I thought it was novel and interesting, but it makes so much (common) sense when you think about it. This type of intervention gives me hope that small technologies, applied in the right ways, can make huge differences.

  2. eliana says:

    I really like the idea of Mobile Medic and the fact that it is becoming useful to people in Malawi. Recently, programs such as Moble Medic have gained popularity in the US and other countries in order to make access to medical records much easier. However, the fact that this database can be accessed via cell phones is something really cool to me and seems a great use of technology. It’s also encouraging to see that this technology is becoming so widespread throughout Malawi because in its pilot, it seems to have been quite successful. In the long run, it will be very interesting how the use of this technology plays out and hopefully continues to improve and be useful to people in a country which is so lacking in doctors and other medical resources.

  3. June says:

    I heard about MobileMedic through this class I think. It is such an interesting inovation by allowing doctors to reach patients from all over the place. It reduces the burden on the patient and also allows the doctor to have more time. The reduce in cost is also quite amazing as you point out. Maybe one day they can improve mobileMedic to also include video chat so the doctor can better understand how the injury/disease is impacting the patient’s life.

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