More than 65 million people around the world are displaced and on the move with no access to health care. But mobile technology will soon change that, thanks to a partnership between design consultancy Frontend and the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
When migrants and refugees fleeing their hometowns arrive at an emergency center or refugee camp, they typically receive health care, treatment and medications, among other assistance from aid groups. Once they leave to go back home or to other countries, they lose access to that care and any information surrounding it.
That is one of IOM’s key challenges – the mobility of health care and health care data. And it raises a lot of questions and difficulties for Frontend User Experience (UX) designer John Buckley. For him, it means aid groups will need to “change their practices to meet the reality on the ground” and take the service to end-users, wherever they are.
“Often times, displaced people were arriving at aid camps, receiving treatment and getting tested for various diseases and conditions, but moving on from the camp before the test results returned,” he said in an interview. “The aid agencies then have no way of relaying that information to the migrants or to the countries they were traveling to.”
But the prevalence of mobile devices among migrant populations offers aid organizations an opportunity to provide them with the same level of services they offer in emergency camps in Greece or Turkey, for example.
With help from students from various design colleges around the world and input from refugees and aid groups on the ground, the Irish firm and IOM came up with a new concept for a health care system that would address the challenge.
One such solution is an Electronic Health Record system that would allow migrants to get tested at the camps in Greece or Turkey and then use an app to access the results at a later date through their mobile phones, wherever they happen to be.
The idea is that the migrant, not a health system, “owned and had access to that information,” said Buckley. At the same time, the results are “translatable” so that “healthcare professionals in whichever jurisdiction could interpret the results for the patient.”
In the same way, patients on the move “could connect to an app and speak with a doctor in their own language through an IOM service,” he said. “This would alleviate difficulties migrants can face in terms of accessing health care in other countries.”
But an even bigger challenge is the way medications are currently labeled when they are distributed to migrants and refugees at emergency centers. Aid groups typically provide newcomers with medications in clear plastic bags, with different labels attached to them.
“There’s different types of labels by different agencies,” explained Buckley. “The medications, because they’re often donated or they’re always bought in bulk, will be single tablets … which may, depending on the provider, be different types of tablets.”
The pills a migrant or refugee receives could be yellow and oblong on some days, blue and round on others – a situation that promotes mistrust despite the fact that the medications are prescribed for that particular individual.
“They might not trust they have the tablet,” he said. “And so building a level of trust is vital.”
But that’s harder to do with the existing labels, which offer very basic information and little or no insight into the prescribed medication. “When you and I buy medication, we’ll have a full information leaflet,” he added. “We’ll have dosage information. There’s very little information on most of these packages.”
And while recipients at the camp can ask aid groups for clarification, they are on their own once they are on the move again.
But Frontend and IOM came up with an answer – an award-winning concept for a standardized label that all aid agencies can use.
The new label lets migrants with mobile phones scan a QR code to access more information about their medications. It also provides additional iconography and language for aid workers on the ground to customize the information for patients in different languages “so that a person with a mobile phone could scan that and get access to the information in their own language.”
Frontend and IOM are looking to partner with the World Health Organization to make the label a reality. In the process, Buckley hopes to promote human-centered design – understanding the needs of end-users first – as an effective way to tackle social issues.