When people hear the word “innovation” in health, they often think of the kinds of things that are newly developed in laboratories—things like machines and medicines that have the power to diagnose and treat health challenges.
Those advancements are certainly important, but some of the most interesting innovations these days are about finding ways to connect people to these tools, and providing education on how to use them for long-term good.
And the best of these innovations have one thing in common: simplicity. In the last decade, new technologies have become available, and they are helping to connect us with medical innovations. Their simplicity and ease of use is providing more options for people all over the world to interact and participate in their own health decisions.
Online portals, video and podcasts, and personalized electronic health records have made for faster, cheaper access to health information. But one device is outshining the rest: the mobile phone.
Many years ago, as a senior technical advisor for global health at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), we would often lament that we had communication challenges to reach people with valuable messages. Fewer than half of the world’s population had ever made a phone call in their lifetime.
Today, I can tell you that the success of the mobile phone has exceeded our wildest imagination. Nimble, small, and less reliant on infrastructure, mobile phones have become part of the daily lives of nearly 80 percent of the world’s people. In 2010, there were more than five billion mobile subscriptions worldwide, reaching more than 50 percent of households even in many developing countries.