- Traditional health systems serve a key role in protecting populations, but are typically hierarchical, and information often travels slowly.
- Novel Internet-based collaborative systems can have an important role in gathering information quickly and improving coverage and accessibility.
- Mobile Internet usage is growing rapidly worldwide, making real-time information tools more readily available to both clinicians and the general public.
- We present a brief summary of some promising mobile applications for health monitoring and information sharing, together with preliminary results from a study of our deployment of a smartphone application which enabled the general public to report infectious disease events.
- These early efforts at tapping the power of mobile software tools illustrate potentially important steps in improving health systems as well as engaging the public as participants in the public health process.
In traditional clinical and public health structures, information flows through a hierarchy of providers and local or national authorities, who then communicate with the public via periodic announcements . Meanwhile, broad adoption of the Internet around the world has enabled a new class of participatory systems that allow people to contribute and share information and work together in real time . Wikipedia is perhaps the best-known such project. In the field of public health, online patient communities provide a forum for patients to share their experiences, collect information, and inform biomedical researchers –. Participatory systems in which data and intelligence are gathered from the population, traditionally through discussion or surveys, have also been used to gain an understanding of disease transmission, especially for zoonotic diseases . However, new internet community-based systems represent a departure from the careful control, verification, and data-informed actions of traditional structures, but can provide advantages in scalability, coverage, timeliness, and transparency. Furthermore, engaging the public transforms users from passive recipients of information to active participants in a collaborative community, helping to improve their own health as well as the health of those around them.
The rise in adoption of mobile phones and the Internet, in both industrialized and developing countries, has provided additional opportunities in “crowdsourcing,” which is engaging large groups of people to perform a task ,. Mobile phones hold particular promise for this type of opportunity because they can be used as point-of-care devices, function in remote locations, and are readily carried and used at any time ,. In this paper we outline examples of mobile systems for public health, illustrating some of the key concepts, opportunities, and successes made possible through the combination of emerging mobile technologies and user engagement (Table 1). We also detail our own contribution, the Outbreaks Near Me application for iPhone and Android smartphones (For images and further information please see: http://www.healthmap.org/outbreaksnearme/), built on the HealthMap , outbreak monitoring platform.