June 2007

Emerging Technologies for Sustainable Rural e-Health

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The issue of rural e-Health software is a complex one. There are hundreds of open source Electronic Medical Record (EMR) systems supporting different platforms available around the world. These range from full-fledged hospital management solutions to community EMRs, to personal health records. The advantage of open-source applications is reduced costs, flexibility to customize, and sharing of knowledge with developer community and users.

A number of technologies are now emerging, which can create a sustainable ecosystem for rural e-Health. The well-demonstrated evidence about the benefits of rural e-Health has been bolstered by the support for comprehensive surveillance after the SARS and bird flu outbreaks in the recent times. Given the resource constrained environment, any successful rural e-Health project has to bring together enablers at the right time and with right incentives for widespread adoption and sustainability. Such systems need to be low cost, rugged, portable, convenient and interoperable. The four vital components of e-Health are mobile hardware, which can be taken into patient's dwellings and has support for network access, software for accessing records with some decision support built in, reliable network which is low cost and connects mobile workers to the central base or a national grid, and most importantly the power source, for providing electricity in remote areas.

Some of the promising technologies which can have tremendous impact on these four e-Health components have been discussed here. These are either in pilot stage or in early launch phase. Some are not being explicitly promoted for e-Health applications, but their specifications make them ideal candidates for e-Health adoption.

The ICT developments  in the hardware domain

Hardware is central to e-Health implementation. Over years, many large and small organizations have introduced mobile devices to enable their application in rural settings with varying degree of success. These devices can be used to access patient records at point of care, enter data during patient encounter and instantly make available to central databases.

One of the most visible educational technology projects in the world is the $100 usd laptop project. This project is aimed at creating a low-cost laptop that would be used as an educational aid in developing countries. Recently renamed as 'One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project', this MIT Media Lab design is a Linux-based system, manufactured by a Taiwanese company.

The multiple features of the laptop

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