Mobile devices, online communities and cost-cutting

By John Farrell
09:16 AM

Healthcare systems around the world have been scrambling to come up with ways to leverage mobile technologies in order to reduce healthcare costs, especially those stemming from chronic disease management. Now, the Australia-based International Journal of Networking and Virtual Organisations has outlined an approach in which online communities could easily be used to offer people with chronic illnesses wireless healthcare services via mobile phones and the internet. If successful, the strategy would reduce healthcare costs and empower many patients to manage their conditions more effectively.

Nilmini Wickramasinghe, who recently joined RMIT University in Australia after 15 years of conducting research in IT and healthcare in the United States, has been working with Steve Goldberg of INET International, Inc. in Thornhill, Ontario, Canada to develop a wireless system that promises to empower patients by supporting patient self-management for diabetes and other chronic diseases.

Diabetes is an important chronic disease because it is becoming more prevalent not only North America, but around the world. Given the treatment costs for this increasing population--and the lost work hours due to treatment requirements--the statistical outlook would be alarming to any healthcare system, the researchers say.

Technology initiatives in healthcare to date have had mixed results, but the researchers say this is perhaps due to a failure of such initiatives to capture the richness and potential of the modern healthcare environment, rather than an intrinsic flaw in taking an information technology approach.

In a pilot study with 20 patients, the INET team led by Sheldon Silver, claims to have already demonstrated that it is possible for patients to dial in their own blood glucose readings using a mobile phone and to receive timely feedback from their healthcare worker.

The next step is to leverage online communities to make use of the additional context and tools that are then available. Social networks such as Facebook and Linkedin are playing a pivotal role in moving Internet users from isolation to a connected network of family, friends and business associates, the researchers add. The logical extension of this type of community for healthcare management is a no-brainer. In fact, U.S. physicians have their own system in the form of the Sermo network.

With one out of every 10 healthcare dollars in the U.S. spent on diabetes and its complications, such a system implemented for diabetics could significantly reduce costs and improve quality of life in the process.


John Farrell blogs daily at

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