3 Evolving Public Health Technologies

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The world has embraced an information age. According to medical writers Jai P. Narain and Roderico Ofrin, technology itself is changing rapidly and influencing all aspects of our lives, including the health care field. Discover three advances that are making public health initiatives work more efficiently and effectively.

Mobile Checkups Bridge Gap Between Practitioner and Patient

Evolving Public Health Technologies_Image via Flickr by NEC Corporation of America

Image via Flickr by NEC Corporation of America

Cell phones and other mobile devices are helping connect patients with their practitioners. People too ill to attend a clinic, without adequate transportation, or without time to spare can turn to their mobile device and video conference with a trained health care practitioner through apps such as Doctor on Demand and NowClinic. According to NPR’s All Tech Considered blog, UnitedHealthcare will even cover the virtual checkups, potentially paving the way for other insurers to do the same. The rise of mobile health, or mhealth, has significant implications not only for America, but also the developing world. According to the Korean International Cooperation Agency, with 80 percent of the world’s 6.3 billion mobile subscribers living in developing nations, mhealth may reach patients that traditional forms of health care do not.

Twitter Helps Health Professionals Monitor Diseases

Twitter has much more to offer than celebrity gossip and enticing food photos. Health care professionals are using the popular microblogging platform to monitor the spread of infectious diseases, including the flu, and predict disease activity. During flu season, researchers at universities across America analyze millions of tweets containing the word flu. These researchers have found Twitter to be a more accurate surveillance tool for the disease than others used in the past, such as public laboratories and Google searches. According to Matthew Biggerstaff, an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the information gleaned from Twitter is also timelier. By receiving information nearly two weeks earlier, researchers can more accurately chart disease activity, like the flu. Doctors can also access the information to make better treatment decisions during a health care epidemic.

Geospatial Technology Helps Improve Public Health

Geospatial technology has a range of health care functions, but perhaps one of its most interesting capabilities might be its ability to give information that can help make public health better. Geospatial technology collects information about several factors, analyzes the data, and displays the results on a multilayered map. For example, maps created by Virgina’s GeoHealth Innovations, a company specializing in the technology, chart the state’s maternal and infant health, mortality rates, adult and youth health risks, and other social factors influencing population health. As outlined in the International Journal of Health Geographics, these multilayered maps can inform and educate professionals and the community about the true state of health care and allow decision makers to improve the areas they govern. The power of geospatial technology for change in the public health sector has led some universities to offer GEOHealth courses and concentrations, which offer training in geospatial technology and its health care applications. Today, these three examples are some of the technological tools medical professionals are employing to improve patient care and outcomes. Only time will tell which high-tech tools will revolutionize the field of public health in the future.

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