Last month, 130 doctors, nurses, development workers, techies, government officials, and academics from 35 countries joined us on an exciting four-week journey through the latest developments in mHealth.
Three observations/trends emerged during the course:
Mobile data collection most discussed! Mobile data collection, management and analysis gained significant attention in the course forums. We were thrilled to be joined by Yaw Onokwa, one of the founders of Open Data Kit and Jeremy of CommCare who provided students with live demos of their respective software packages and shared a number of insights and best practices for developing surveys, acquiring and managing users, scaling data projects and more. The always-engaging Alain Labrique (Johns Hopkins University) joined us for a fantastic session on the continuum of care that touched on his exciting work in Bangladesh and the importance of investing in the evidence base.
The importance of human centered design (HCD): Human-centered design also featured prominently throughout the four weeks. Isaac Holman (co-founder of Medic Mobile) led participants through an exercise in drawing/mapping a health ecosystem based on HCD principles. Design experts Erica Kochi (UNICEF Innovation) and Robert Fabricant (Frog Design) shared a wealth of insights from their experiences in successfully launching and sustaining mHealth projects in a number of countries. For many of these world-class practitioners, this was the first time they had ever presented in an online course like this.
Fewer pilots + design for scale: After the New York Times featured an article last spring entitled The Benefits of Mobile Health on Hold there was certainly a lot of room for debate and critical discussion about “pilotitis”. Patty Mechael noted that one trend she has observed in last year is fewer organizations are starting pilots more are focused on designing for scale from the onset of a project. And finally, Gustav Praekelt shared the amazing work his foundation has undertaken to team up with leading private sector entities in South Africa to achieve scale (1 million+) in fighting HIV and preparing mothers for childbirth.
Three highlights from the course:
Techies + Healthies: We featured a TEDx Talk by Josh Nesbit titled, “Techies + Healthies”, which prompted an insightful discussion about the need to promote more engagement between practitioners from both fields. We also asked participants to reflect on their own orientation on the healthie – techie spectrum.
Zombies, Zombies, Zombies: What would a TechChange course be without a Zombie Apocalypse. This time, participants had to respond to an impending zombie invasion and practice gathering vital health and preparedness data using tools like Magpi, FrontlineSMS, CommCare formhub, OpenDataKit and more.
What a Map! We asked participants to describe the health systems in their own countries and then crowdsourced an interactive Google Map of everyone’s responses. I personally learned a tremendous amount about the challenges and opportunities that exist in other countries through this visualization and am excited to do more of these kinds of activities in future courses.
At EyeNetra, the startup he cofounded, goofy curiosities like plastic eyeballs line the shelves, and a 3-D printing machine whirs in the background. It’s printing out prototypes of a device that will attach to your smartphone and, in a minute or two, tell you what kind of eyeglasses you need.
The device, called the Netra-G, is based on some clever optics and software Pamplona came up with—a way to measure the refractive error of the eye using a smartphone screen and an inexpensive pair of plastic binoculars. The whole setup might cost a few dollars to make. It does the job of a $5,000 instrument called an autorefractor.
More important, just about anyone could use it. That’s where the disruption comes in—and the trouble. Right now, only doctors or optometrists can prescribe glasses or contact lenses. Pamplona, a brash Brazilian programmer who arrived in the U.S. a few years ago, thinks that won’t always be the case. “We’re changing medicine by providing the user the right to measure themselves,” he says. “We see doctors as more of a coach.”