Mobile doctor always on call

[Image] The Afridoctor mobile application will
allow smartphone owners quick access
to medical information.
(Image: NokiaConnectZA)

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A South African-designed mobile application for smartphones is enabling people to diagnose ailments via mobile technology – with the help of a panel of doctors.

Mobile developers 20FourLabs, a division of local internet portal 24.com, designed their Afridoctor application as an alternative information service for people who have limited access to healthcare, or who are out of range of a doctor at the time.

While it will fill a large gap in terms of availability of basic health information, and will help to educate and improve the lives of many people, Afridoctor should never take the place of a visit to a health professional, if this is at all possible.

The application, conceived by 20FourLabs’ Werner Erasmus, saw off competition from over 125 entries to take first prize in Nokia’s Calling All Innovators Africa 2009 competition at the end of last year, netting its developers R644 000 (US$85 000). The competition called for applications relevant to South African and African mobile users.

The four other winning applications, which each took home R76 000 ($10 000), were The Roach Game: South Africa by Breakdesign; bird guide Sasol e.Birds by Coolideas; snake guide MrSNAKE by Simon Botes; and entertainment widget Thumbtribe by Thumtribe.

Five more applications won 12 months’ membership to the Forum Nokia developer’s group and a Judge’s Choice award. They are LiveMobile by LiveMobile, Countdown 2010 by Christian Reeve; Surfing Safari by Aqua Online; Turn Left at the Barrel by Turn Left at the Giraffe; and Mall-Buddy by Paul Hinrichsen.

Afridoctor is available as a free download from the Nokia Ovi store, as are several of the other prize-winning applications.

More accessible to Africans

Although mobile use is increasing dramatically on the African continent, the developers have found, through data submitted during use of the application, that Afridoctor is more popular with users from elsewhere in the world.

While the application is currently compatible only with the N-series of Nokia handsets, which run the Symbian S60 5th edition operating system, the team is working on making it more widely accessible in South Africa and the rest of the continent.

They hope to make it available on other mobile platforms such as iPhone, Android and Java 2 Micro Edition (J2ME). J2ME-compatible phones are favoured by African users, who generally cannot afford the more expensive smartphones – but they are the ones who most need the assistance.

There is also talk of developing dedicated applications focusing on topical health and social issues such as HIV/Aids, cancer and asthma.

Unique features

“Afridoctor is Africa’s first personal mobile health clinic, turning your device into a powerful first aid information kit, a doctor-location service, and an emergency distress notifier,” says the developing team.

Afridoctor, presented in association with health24.com, has a rich selection of functions and three outstanding features. The first is SnapDiagnosis, which allows patients to upload photos of health conditions and receive advice within 48 hours – via a phone call, text message or e-mail – from a professional medical panel.

However, this feature is best suited to topical ailments such as rashes or stings, as the doctors will find it impossible to use a mere photo to diagnose a disease that presents no external symptoms.

The mapping feature pinpoints the location of the user via Google Maps, and supplies them with information on clinics, hospitals, doctors and other related health services in their area, saving them time and effort.

There is also an emergency feature which instantly sends a distress call to a predefined emergency mobile number. The friend or family member is immediately notified that the sender is in difficulty, and will be told where the sender is located. The Afridoctor team hope to include a panic button as a future Nokia home screen widget, allowing users to send the signal by pressing just one button without having to load the application first.

Other features include useful first aid tips on a variety of topics ranging from dog bites, burns, and fever to seizures and kitchen safety. There are also a number of quizzes which help users determine their risk for conditions such as stroke, hypertension or cancer; encourage them to give up smoking or drinking; and establish a possible case of clinical depression.

A series of calculators based on user input also help work out likely blood alcohol level, healthy weight and basal metabolic rate, among others.

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