Oulmes, a city of 66,000 inhabitants in the mountains of Morocco, isn’t exactly a bastion of modern medicine, so the Mobile Ultrasound Patrol stirred excitement when it arrived in the rural village to deliver technology that would help doctors bring prenatal care to underserved women. And to the mothers living there, there was another exciting benefit. Dr. Katof Abdelkhalek, who worked in Oulmes for a few days, recalls how ecstatic mothers were about “seeing” their unborn babies with ultrasound technology.
Access to ultrasound technology is a challenge around the world, most often in areas with inadequate access to health care, such as rural Morocco. Roughly 800 women die from complications related to pregnancies every day, yet these deaths are preventable. Placental problems are one of the leading reasons women die in childbirth and ultrasounds are the only way to detect these issues.
However, the above example illustrates that there’s cause for optimism. In 2014, Qualcomm teamed up with Trice Imaging to launch the award-winning Mobile Ultrasound Patrol project, a Qualcomm Wireless Reach project. As the latest Qualcomm Sustainability Report points out, Qualcomm is leveraging mobile healthcare technologies to help underserved communities around the world. CliniPAK 360, a similar project in Nigeria, puts advanced mobile technology in the hands of midwives. Mobilizing HERhealth empowers female factory workers in China with mobile apps that promote wellness and nutritional information.
As with these other women-centric health initiatives, the results of the Mobile Ultrasound Patrol project were encouraging. The program, which is now complete, demonstrated that by putting broadband-enabled smartphones and tablets in the hands of frontline health workers, diagnosis is faster, cheaper and more accurate.
Here are key discoveries from the report:
- Diagnostic time was reduced from two weeks to 24 hours: Physicians used mobile ultrasounds to snap an image of what was going on in the mother’s uterus, then used Sony phones and phablets with a Qualcomm Snapdragon processor to send and receive encrypted images and comments from faraway experts, some even outside Africa. Mobile sped up the process considerably. Trice Imaging’s cloud technology, an easy way to share medical images, shortened diagnostic time from two weeks to less than 24 hours and eliminated travel time, which normally takes four days. In fact, 70% of the 113 examinations were delivered to remote specialists in under a minute.
- Costs were lowered by 97%: The cost to send ultrasound images to remote experts was reduced to approximately $2 per image transmission, down from an average of $80 via postal delivery.
- Mothers and fathers get to see their babies early: Women and their families were thrilled to see their child in-utero, Dr. Abdelkhalek said in the report. In Moroccan villages, pregnant women are used to getting care in “health houses” that normally don’t have access to the latest ultrasound technologies.
- The program inspired women to check-in at health houses more often: The surveyed physicians said that the number of patients at health houses increased after the Mobile Ultrasound Patrol trial. And the number of deliveries in the health houses grew, which means safer deliveries overseen by trained birth assistants.
- Patients benefitted from more thorough diagnoses: Of the 575 studies, 94 cases exposed complications or uncertain diagnoses in which the pregnant mothers needed further attention. These cases would likely not have been detected otherwise.
- The project benefits doctors too: Not only did the Mobile Ultrasound Patrol project help patients, but the technology gave doctors an entirely new framework to work within. Mobile technology slashes the time doctors need to spend examining each patient. And the project offered opportunity for general practitioners, nurses, and midwives to learn new mobile technology skills.
These were the results when Qualcomm Wireless Reach brought ultrasounds to the rural Moroccan cities Oulmes, Boulemane, and Rabat. But Qualcomm thinks that the findings from our report on the project will lend extra justification to hasten the spread of this technology around the world.
Indeed, many participants found the technology essential. The success of this award-winning project inspired follow-up action by a regional government. The health ministry in the first region of Souss Massa Drâa, in Morocco, has committed to installing mobile ultrasound devices and this program in an additional 10 health houses, thanks to the President of the Region, Dr. Hafidi in Agadir and the Regional Health Minister, Dr. Abdelmoula Boulamizat.
And even though Dr. Abdelkhalek is now in another city, S. Allal Bahraoui, he is still using mobile ultrasounds to examine pregnant women and he is excited to see how it transforms long-term health care in the region. “As a physician of a health center I would never want to be without the ability to do ultrasounds,” he said.