The Cell Phone App That Brings Medical Care to the World
When Ting Shih was a graduate student at MIT, she was given a seemingly impossible assignment in her Development Ventures class: create a business that would “impact over a billion people.” Ting decided to complete the assignment by taking on an even more impossible task: providing health care to the entire planet. And since Ting apparently felt like this assignment wasn’t difficult enough already, she planned to do it by using the cell phone in her pocket:
We knew that already in 2007 there were more people with [cell] phones than had electricity or other means of survival [in developing nations], and if we wanted to deliver health care than it had to be through their phones.
Due to reasons of cost, distance from medical centers, and available doctors, many people in developing countries do not have reliable access to health care. Just how bad is the problem exactly? According to a 2010 World Health Organization report, Chad had approximately half a doctor for every ten thousand citizens. One doctor cannot possibly care for 10,000 patients; a fraction of a doctor doesn’t stand a chance.
But access to medical care isn’t just a problem in the developing world. Despite improvements in health care coverage, 11.9 percent of people in the United States still do not have medical insurance. But though access to medical care has remained scarce in many countries, ownership of cell phones has skyrocketed worldwide. Today there are almost as many cell phone subscriptions as there are people on earth, and ownership continues climbing in even the most impoverished and remote corners of the earth. But while many app developers have used the massive spread of phone ownership to sell products that crush candy and dress Kardashians, Ting Shih started Click Medix, a program for smart phones that connects people with limited access to medical care to qualified doctors around the world.
The process is simple: the patient visits a local caregiver (though doctors are rare in certain countries, there is usually access to nurses and other professionals with some medical knowledge), and after answering a list of basic questions about their condition and having pictures of the affected area taken, the information is then uploaded to the internet through the Click Medix app. A trained doctor can then review the information and submit a diagnosis, a prescription, and a care plan for the patient within one to three days. To put this timeframe in perspective, the average wait time to see a dermatologist in the United States is four to six months.
In the beginning, Click Medix primarily dealt with dermatological issues, but the program has extended to cover diabetes, cancer, and mental health problems. Even in countries that provide free health care to its citizens, Click Medix helps the governments save money on medical costs so that they may treat even more patients. According to Ting:
Our work in diabetes can lower the cost [of treatment] by about 50 percent or more. And that’s from the reduction of hospital avoidance, and also reducing the number of different visits that have to be made by the patient, because you can access all the different doctors you need to see through the Click Medix platform and our medical partners.
Click Medix has helped over 200,000 people receive medical attention, and the numbers are increasing every day. But Ting isn’t satisfied; she won’t be satisfied until she reaches the “billion people” benchmark that was set in her class at MIT. It seems like an impossible goal, but Ting has never let that stop her before.
And with an ever-increasing elderly population, it is now more crucial than ever that we make our medical care systems more nimble and cost-effective. Ting believes Click Medix can do exactly that, telling Uproxx:
I believe that Click Medix will help fix the future, because we have a solution for what the future of health care will look like. We’re in a world where there are going to be more seniors and more chronic diseases…and really we’re looking at, how do we help patients that need ten or twenty doctors get better care while lowering our costs. If we don’t fix the future, in terms of health care needs, we are looking at huge bills just to help our senior population age.