A low cost vital statistics screening tool
How can frontline health workers be empowered with simple devices to screen large populations?
How can volunteers with minimal medical training actively screen large populations to reduce the stress on the State healthcare systems?
During the course of our intensive fieldwork, we encountered many situations where healthcare facilities were available, but not easily accessible. Small primary healthcare centers and large public hospitals alike, were crowded with people suffering from all sorts of conditions- from pregnancy, a fever, a serious pneumonia, a broken limb, to malaria to even paranoia from symptoms. They all waited in large groups, perhaps all day before they saw the doctor. And often the sick person was accompanied by many family members.
What if, a healthcare voluteer, could simply screen the large groups for basic vital parameters; tempertaure, pressure, pulse, oxygen saturation, respiration rate, blood sugar etc, and prioritize the treatment? The solutions needed to be simple, easy to read and understand, here the worker would not have to deal with numbers (often patients would be curious about the numbers too), and was simply indicative of what the next steps should be.
In India, the Government has a system of Asha workers who are in many ways the primary healthcare worker. The Asha worker is educated in bare minimum medical and paramedical issues to identify people who possibly suffer from conditions that need attention. The Asha worker is paid on an incentive to identify such people in the most remote villages and bring them to a Primary Health Center (PHC) This programme is mainly targeted to ensure that pregnant women and lactating mothers get the medical help and extra food they need and to help identify potentially contagious conditions as well.
A wrist watch or clock could be great starting point.
1. It was ubiquitous, everyone had seen it
2. It was easily available with a great local repair network
3. The visual language was easy to understand and comprehend. And we started working around the technology that could be used fro primary sensors and figuring out how that might fit into a clock.
One of our first trials was around a wrist watch that could have many sensors which the primary health worker would use, depending on her need. Ofcourse the wristwatch was very small and had to be fitted onto a box to allow for the electronics to fit in. After a round of user testing in rural hospitals, we realised that a small display often created a sense of unsureness amongst the nurses, especially the older ones. They would sometime do two or more readings to be just sure. Also repetitively taking readings made the patients a bit more nervous about their condition.
In this first prototype, the markings on the watch corresponded to the reading being taken.
We decided to simplify this further, and took apart a standard, cheap, locally available alarm clock. The device provided more room to fit in the electronics and the visual face could also be easily changed.
The Clock-meter has a USB port which is only a connector and does not follow the protocols. These are the most easy to find connectors in the electronics surplus and recycled goods bazaars. This connector will now be able to plug into a family of sensors, ones that can measure temperature, blood pressure, pulse, respiration rate, oxygen saturation etc. And most importantly, the readings are done with, and the pointer simply indicating the next step to the Asha worker – If it stands on the red band, the patient is serious, needs to be rushed to the hospital, or if it is on the yellow band that he can see a doctor at a PHC or then if luckily on the green band, the patient can stay home for now.