Mobile Research for Patient Record Keeping in India

Observations on Patient Record Keeping in Rural India

Between 1993 and 1997 I worked for Apple Computer in their Advanced Technology Group. I used my newly minted Master Degree from the Royal College of Art in London to prototype new product experiences. My job was to illustrate new ideas which emerged from the teams of  business experts, scientists, engineers and user researchers. Finished working prototypes of new technologies, like QuickTime, the Newton, ColorSync etc. were demonstrated at Apple Developer conferences to inspire Developers to build applications for the Apple platform.

Being fresh out of design school, I had never met an engineer or a human factors expert before. Without a shared frame of academic reference, making myself understood was often difficult. How had I got from North London to Cupertino California and what was I really doing there?

The answer to this question came in 1994 when I found myself  involved with an Apple project in India investigating the work of rural healthcare workers employed by the Govt. of Indias’ Health and Family Welfare Program.

The work of the healthcare worker is to collect information on population growth, malaria, weddings, vaccines and general ailments like camel bites. Their biggest challenge was to identify couples of marrying age and enlist them into a family planning program. In the center of the photo above you see the records kept on a shelf are aging and falling apart in a rural outpost field hospital. The Government wanted to collect patient information digitally hoping it would be more accurate and asked Apple to see if this could be done on their Newton Personal Digital Assistant.

During one of the many exhilarating research trips I made to India, I found myself attending a major technology conference in New Delhi. Gursharan Sidhu, was speaking. He asked the audience of nearly 600 men, “How many of you had access to a library growing up”.  9 hands went up in the audience.

Never in my life had I questioned or considered whether the rest of the world had free access to books and useful reference material like magazines and newspapers. That is when I understood what I was doing working in Silicon Valley, Cupertino. It was about making a commitment to making information available to people who had not had access before so that when the day comes and they can access information freely without fear or cost, I hope the experience makes them feel included, empowered and their life transformed.

“Massive change is not about the world of design; it’s about the design of the world” Bruce Mao.


For more information on the mobile computing project in India, please see our paper Unfamiliar Ground: designing technology to support rural healthcare workers in India available at the ACM Digital Library.

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