The Power of a Phone: Inside One mHealth Solution Designed to Impact a Billion People

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The Power of a Phone: Inside One mHealth Solution Designed to Impact a Billion People

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Screenshot 2015-10-18 16.51.53
February 24, 2015

Ting Shih
CEO & Founder, ClickMedix


ClickMedix was born at MIT Media Lab as an in-class assignment. What resulted is an mhealth solution that tackles the global healthcare crisis.

To understand, rewind back to year 2007, when mobile smartphones were just emerging. I was sitting in my first MIT Media Lab course, Development Ventures, and my team was asked to create a business that would impact more than one billion people. At that time, we thought we could use camera phones—before iPhones, of course—to capture information about patients’ symptoms and send it via a mobile network to remote doctors. For the project, we worked with the University of Pennsylvania to determine whether we could use mobile-phone camera to teach nurse midwives in Botswana to screen patients for cervical cancer.

The results were astounding. Nurse midwives learned to use camera phones to photograph a woman’s cervix after applying a household vinegar solution, which turned pre-cancerous lesions white. The nurses then took photos of the lesions and sent the images to a remote women’s health expert, who diagnosed whether or not the lesions were cancerous. The nurses then removed the lesions accordingly. This procedure saved lives by enabling same-day screening and treatment of cervical cancer.

After seeing these results, I had a realization: If we could enable diagnosis and treatment of cervical cancer and teach African midwives to do so, what couldn’t we do? With the advancement of smartphone technology, I believe the applications and potential to shorten time to treatment are limitless. I went on and explored different applications of mobile camera phones and smartphones for remote diagnosis and treatment of various diseases, including infectious diseases, maternal and pediatric ailments, and senior and chronic diseases.

To scale the idea, I launched ClickMedix in May 2011, making available a commercial-scale, bank-level secure, HIPAA-compliant mobile health platform. This platform enables rapid development of mobile and web-enabled solutions for health-risk detection and telemedicine with remote doctors. It also facilitates continuous follow-up and adherence monitoring, as well as education for patients and their caregivers. ClickMedix’s goal is to speed up the delivery of high-quality healthcare by enabling health professionals, family caregivers and patients to use smartphones and tablets as the tools for both information gathering and treatment advice.

We’ve had remarkable success in emerging markets as well as successful “reverse innovation” implementations in the U.S. In India, for example, we worked in partnership with Medtronic to develop “Shruti,” a program to screen and treat for ear infections that cause deafness and hearing loss, two of the most commonly diagnosed health issues in the developing world.

Using ClickMedix’s highly customizable mobile platform, healthcare workers record data about patient symptoms, conduct an initial physical ear screening with a Medtronic otoscope (the medical device used to look in patients’ ears), and refer patients with treatment needs efficiently to ear-nose-throat specialists. The ClickMedix application guides healthcare workers through a series of questions to ask the patient, mimicking a medical specialist’s interview of the patient. Based on both the patient’s responses and images captured by the Medtronic otoscope, a healthcare worker is then able to make a provisional diagnosis and recommend treatment and/or referral to treatment centers. To ensure accuracy, the ClickMedix app sends the photos and data to ENT surgeons, who oversee the program and confirm the diagnosis and treatment plans.

Since the program launched in July 2013, more than 86,000 patients have been screened and appropriately treated for ear infections—and more than 1,000 new patients are screened on a weekly basis. Along with the screening and treatment referral program, health workers have gained new employment opportunities with hospital systems to help identify patients needing care, as well as providing follow-up care to patients to ensure full treatment and recovery.

Taking many lessons learned from India and other emerging markets, where resources are scarce, we have implemented lower-cost yet effective healthcare services in the U.S. as well. Current programs include teledermatology in Virginia, Maryland, Massachusetts, Florida and Hawaii through DermUtopia. Typically, patients receive a dermatologist’s diagnosis, treatment instructions and e-prescription as needed within three days—instead of within three to six months and multiple office visits. We have also implemented a number of chronic disease management programs to help patients with diabetes, heart disease, mental health issues and cancer, reducing need for hospital or emergency room visits by about 50 percent.

In order to implement new healthcare services in the U.S., we position our product as a tool to help health organizations and physicians serve more patients through remote consultations, increased efficiency and increased referrals, as well as collaborating other physicians on treatment planning. Health organizations and doctors use ClickMedix as their all-in-one tool to provide novel healthcare services, including screening, triage, remote consultation, care coordination and follow-up care. Physicians who provide remote consultation obtain telemedicine malpractice coverage, as well as abide by state rules for telemedicine services.

Another example of mhealth’s potential is through effective diabetes management, demonstrated by our partnership with Western Diabetes Institute in Pomona, CA, where our platform has achieved effective health outcomes within months. This changes the quality of life for some diabetic patients—who face the medical decision of amputation or are unable to control the disease progression—through medication management and life style changes. In addition, we reduced the costs of physician visits by an estimated 50 percent. Using ClickMedix, WDI can see twice as many patients and has since increased number of health plans that contract WDI services to help improve the health outcomes of their diabetic patients.

“ClickMedix’s connected mHealth platform,” says Dr. Andrew Pumerantz, WDI’s founder and executive director,”enables and facilitates communication between care managers and each of the providers across the different disciplines and settings that make up a patient’s health care ecosystem. ClickMedix affords all stakeholders the opportunity to improve the value of care that they deliver particularly to people living with multiple and complex chronic health conditions.”

ClickMedix CHI

To promote this kind of shared decision-making that can be easily understood by patients and family members, each WDI patient and his/her care team receive a Chronic Health Index. This one-page ‘balanced scorecard’ displays the patient’s health condition at-a-glance, using easy-to-understand language. Based on this scorecard, the team formulates a care plan that includes proper diet, physical activity, self-management education and medication, as well as early intervention for heart disease, hypertension, obesity and other co-morbidities diagnosed during the evaluation. Many patients tell us that, as a result of using the CHI, they understand their condition for the first time in their lives.

As we continue to implement ClickMedix-facilitated healthcare services worldwide, we are able to aggregate lessons learned and tailor them into care delivery services applicable to each market to build financially sustainable health services while lowering costs. As the global healthcare crisis grows and impacts more and more people, including our family members and loved ones, we hope ClickMedix can help healthcare innovators to transform a global crisis into high-quality, yet affordable healthcare.