Mobile Health Coming to a Pasture Near You

There have been only two times in my life that I have paid attention to cows. I’m in the midst of the second as we speak. I call this current stage “the age of Chick-fil-A,” a time common to any parent with young children. The first happened during my sophomore year at the University of Georgia. Fresh out of the dorm and into my first apartment, I got to know cows quite well, and one in particular, as the backyard of my domicile looked out onto verdant pastures belonging to UGA’s College of Veterinary Medicine. “Bessie,” as I believe she was called, often roamed close to my bedroom window, and had made quite a name for herself as a research cow. (On one side of her was a semi-sealed opening through which vet students could place their hands and instruments to gather stomach cultures.)

I wonder what Bessie and her bovine brethren would make of mobile health – apparently it is coming to a cow pasture near them in the near future. According to a recent report on NPR, the Thermal Aid heat stress app, scheduled for a formal release this fall, is “a calculator of sorts,” according to the report. “It takes the breaths per minute along with information about [a] cow's breed, type, what it's eating and other basic information. Then, it crunches the data and tells you how the cow's feeling in this environment.”

Currently in development at the University of Missouri, the app aims to ultimately “allow producers to make crucial decisions regarding environmental stress and animal welfare,” according to the Thermal Aid website, which also declares it to be a “learning device that attracts and stimulates student interest in climate and environmental stress related to themselves and their production animals.”

The NPR story also pointed out the generation gap that tends to exist with mobile health tools. Young students, such as the 4H students currently testing the app, are more likely to use it than their older grandparents who’ve been farming for decades. But, as one student put it, “I know my grandpa; he's not really good at technology. But he said that he would like to try it out. So hopefully we're making some headway with it.”

Time will tell if young and old dairy farmers adopt such tools, and as with every mobile health app, whether effective utilization will turn into cost savings and better outcomes. I don’t know about you, but I hope that the next gallon of milk I buy comes from a cow that is completely stress-free.

 

Jennifer Dennard is Social Marketing Director for Atlanta-based Billian's HealthDATA, Porter Research and HITR.com. Connect with her on Twitter @SmyrnaGirl.