Kerry Kennedy: Mobile devices solve healthcare problems

By Neil Versel

Neil_Versel_LargeAs president of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights and daughter of its namesake, Kerry Kennedy has been all over the world. "In nearly every place I visit, access to quality healthcare is a problem," she says.

In many of those places, Internet service and even electricity are unreliable, which is why Kennedy is such a fan of mobile devices for delivering healthcare services and information when the things people in the West take for granted aren't always available.

I know Kennedy because we both have served on the advisory board of Health eVillages, a program that provides medical reference tools and educational material on mobile devices to health professionals in low-resource regions of the world, since its launch in 2011. I go to the meetings and offer tips and contacts as needed, but the real vision and execution for the program come from the two co-founders, Kennedy and Donato Tramuto, CEO and vice chairman of Physician's Interactive Holdings, parent company of mobile medical reference software vendor Skyscape.

The idea for Health eVillages came about after the January 2010 earthquake that devastated Haiti. Kennedy had been telling Trumato about some of the work the RFK Center was doing on healthcare issues in that desperately poor nation, and Trumato suggested they try iPhones and iPod Touches with pre-loaded medical content that can be accessed offline.

Since that time, Health eVillages has launched pilots in Haiti, Kenya, Uganda and most recently, right here in the U.S., at a clinic in Franklin, La., where more than 80 percent of the population lives below the federal poverty line. In all of those locations, nurses and other health workers are overwhelmed with patients — physicians are not always available — and medical texts are either years out of date or simply nonexistent. Mobile devices bring up-to-date resources for both treatment and educational purposes.

"Clinicians for the first time have their fingers on current healthcare information," Kennedy says.

The great thing about smartphones is that they are readily customized; devices can be loaded with different apps to fit each situation. "One of the great strengths of this program," Kennedy says, "is that it's not one-size-fits-all."

In the case of the Louisiana site, money the clinic would have spent on books now can be spent on medical supplies and other critical needs.

Elsewhere, the technology allows patients to go outside the national health system, which might be important for political reasons. One Health eVillages site is in a region where homosexuality is criminalized, according to Kennedy.

"People who go into the hospital can lose their job and housing and be ostracized by their communities," Kennedy says. Locals started an alternative clinic to get around this problem, but lack a doctor. "They're relying on Health eVillages devices to diagnose illnesses and give treatments," she says.