• Consider rural areas where healthcare staff are not physically present in the areas they serve
  • Travel to and from clinics takes a long time
  • Some people may be under social or physical constraints that discourage them from seeing a doctor
  • How can we make it easier for healthcare providers to disseminate useful information?
  • How can we make it easier for potential patients to get medical advice?

What it does

  • Provides an SMS number patients can use to contact a clinic
  • Aggregates SMS messages into a patient list that the clinic can see on a computer or smart phone
  • Allows the doctor to reply to questions, remind people to renew medications, or send out informational alerts to multiple people
  • Keeps track of conversations with people to help doctors manage context.

How I built it

The system consists of a web app to be used at an internet-connected clinic and a server that can send, store, and receive text messages.

The whole system is written in JavaScript: NodeJS on the server and ReactJS on the app side. These are open source tools.

The system is currently running on a hosting provider (Heroku) for convenience, but it could easily be configured to run on someone's physical computer in an actual clinic. This would be cheaper and would alleviate potential regulatory concerns about medical data leaving the country.

Data is stored on a MongoDB database instance.

SMS communication is handled by a third-party service provider: Twilio

Challenges I ran into

The system itself was straight forward to prototype. Bringing it to production would involve some more work to make it secure and to translate the clinic's user interface into Swahili or other relevant languages.

Accomplishments that I'm proud of

I learned a lot about SMS, and particularly the innovative way in which it is being used in Kenya. Thinking about distributed communication without the same level of internet as we have here was a really interesting challenge. This hackathon is especially interesting because of the way it forces you to think about all aspects of how people will look at a new system.

What's next for SMS Healthcare Assistant

The idea here is actually pretty general and could be re-purposed for any situation where people want to access or share expertise.

Another feature might be to extend it to allow patients to follow a simple set of 'symptom' questions over SMS to help them decide on how urgent their need to see a doctor is.

I could also see potential to do analysis on collected texts for certain keywords as a way of getting advanced warning of outbreaks as they occur.

Demo link: Test user account user name: user Test user account password: pass

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