Saturday, September 13, 2008

Open innovation for health care in the developing world

What do you get when you squish a project with General Electric to transmit ultrasound images in Belize and a project with Center for Infectious Disease in Zambia (CIDRZ) to diagnose cervical cancer in rural areas? I’m finding out over the next three months by using my technical project management skills on an important project to figure out how to transmit images over low bandwidth mobile networks.

The goal is to build a scalable technology to transmit, annotate and manage these records. The key bottleneck in health care in the developing world is human resources. You need an approach for telehealth where image capture can be done by a layman in a rural area. The image can be transmitted and then worked on in a different location (anywhere in the world) where medical expertise is more readily available.

This is necessary for successful preventive screening models in rural areas where clinics might be far from the patients who cannot spend much time away from home. In cervical cancer, one of the biggest problem is loss of patient to follow-up. Near real-time diagnosis using a vinegar swab prevents that as the patient never leaves the clinic while waiting for their diagnosis.

Figuring out some of the key requirements will definitely be a challenge. We’ve heard 100KB or 3MB. That’s a big difference in terms of what type of technology, transmission times, compression, etc. that you would use. We discussed how the key bottleneck in health care in the developing world is human resources. You need an approach for telehealth where image capture can be done by a layman in a rural area. In this case being piloted in Belize exams will be carried out by non-expert sonographers who can send by mobile link to radiologist. DICOM communications server will be used with a database for archiving images and a image reviewer. Currently, GE data system aggregates a series of data, but the process is a bit complicated for a rural health worker. We’ll need to look at this process closely in our needs assessment. The idea is to come up with something that can be scaled and re-used across many developing nations.

Currently, GE has a pilot project going on in Belize. 270 scans were taken in Belize by rural health workers and transmitted using a prototype device. They are conducting full statistical study with panel of five radiologists will score images on whether the quality is sufficient to make diagnoses.

GE’s ultrasound system will address several areas, including pregnant mothers, but also functions like sweeping for typical issues of the thyroid, kidney and gall bladder.

I'm looking forward to learning more about the Zambia process as well - this project is underway as a prototype was developed earlier this year, but the architecture we develop will be important in making it a sustainable model. Here's an overview of the project.

I’m going to be posting out updates throughout the next three months that we’ll be working on this project. Your feedback would be great. This really is the best type of open innovation project. We have leading faculty from MIT, Harvard, one of the top companies in the world in GE and an important non-profit in CIDRZ. The core project team is two bioengineers, an industrial designer from the Media Lab, a programmer and me, the MBA. Let’s see how it goes and if we can help make a big leap scalable across the developing world in improving rural health care.

1 comment:

Ted Chan said...

Adding this related link: