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pepp7377's avatar

Can someone help me with a networking problem?

Asked by pepp7377 (61points) November 2nd, 2009

I’m volunteering with a public health NGO in New Delhi that serves the very poor. With two mobile clinics, seven part-time doctors and about 10,000 patients a month the environment is pretty fast-paced. Each patient is seen for only a few minutes, for free, and receives free medicine.

The NGO wants to start keeping track of patients using an electronic database. Ideally, the doctors would take the patient’s details and prescriptions using a hand held device (something like an iphone) that’s networked into a central server.

A company that designs electronic health record systems for doctors and hospitals in the United States has offered to provide their services for free, but their applications are all web-based and because of the quick turnover at the clinics and very slow internet speeds on wireless devices here in India that’s not ideal.

The clinics visit slums in and around New Delhi in three hour intervals. What I’d like to do is allow the doctors to take their patient’s information and prescriptions and send them using a wifi network, quickly, to an off-line server that would, at the end of each shift, deliver the information to an online server.

Does that make sense?

If so, does anyone have any advice on how to network handheld devices together off-line? Any advice on what platforms to use?

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6 Answers

Saturated_Brain's avatar

Welcome to Fluther. This is a great example of what a Fluther question should be. GQ to you for that.

Unfortunately I have no idea how to set up such networks. You’ll have to wait for some of the more tech-savvy folk to come here. In the meantime, would it be possible to supply a laptop to each doctor so that when they go on their rounds they can input all the patient info, merging all the info into one single file at the end of the day? I’m sure you must’ve heard of the One Laptop per Child initiative where $100 Laptops are being created for children. Perhaps you could contact an NGO to try to get laptops at a subsidised cost, if not for free.

I can see that you’re aiming for something small, so I was wondering if you could try contacting the people who make the ASUS Eee PCs. See whether they can do something for you guys. This way you won’t need to set up a network.

Also, forgive me for possibly sounding stupid, but what of just using paper and pen notebooks? Each doctor takes a notebook on his rounds and write down all the info, after which everything gets compiled into an excel file at the end of the day? Tiring and tedious? Definitely. But it’s cheaper than trying to set up a network and definitely cheaper than getting laptops for every doctor (unless you can do it for free).

Edit: I checked your account to realise that you’re not that new after all. Whoopsie.

jrpowell's avatar

You might be able to write something using Mobile Safaris implementation of HTML5 client-side storage. You could store it locally and have a page made that would push out all the data at the end off a shift.

I’m not sure how you would implement something like this into a existing system. If you wrote it all from scratch it wouldn’t be that painful.

pepp7377's avatar

To answer your question, Saturated Brain, it wouldn’t be hard to supply a laptop to each doctor. They aren’t making rounds though; patients are coming to them inside the mobile health clinic at a very fast rate – about one every three or four minutes. I’m hoping we’ll get laptops at a discounted or donated rate.

And the reason why paper and a pen isn’t good is that it doesn’t enable patient follow-up. We’d like to give the patient a unique ID number so that their medical history will go into the system. Ideally, we could use thumbprint technology for ID. Almost the entire population is illiterate.

Jack_Haas's avatar

This should be interesting to you: You probably should contact this company and inquire about practical solutions.

An alternative:

You should also search this site: I didn’t spend much time on it but found this to be of interest:

funkdaddy's avatar

It sounds like you have most of your solution figured out if you can also get a hold of the server component for the health record system and run that locally. Is that a possibility or are they protective of that? How do their clients typically run the system? Do you have a link to information perhaps?

If it’s possible to get a hold of that, then you’d have three main components

1) A “server” with the server portion of the health record system, depending on the hardware requirements, this could probably just be a single computer/laptop that travels with each clinic. There are some very simple webserver software packages for different operating systems that will serve up the content correctly.
2) A wireless router that makes the server available at an address locally. This way you can visit the service over wifi. A typical home router would work unless you’re talking about excessive distances between the doctors and whatever travelling home base they have.
3) wifi enabled handsets of some sort, you mentioned the iphone, but this could also be an ipod touch to save a bit of cost since the phone portion won’t be used and the touch has wifi. Of course there’s others as well.

With those three, your doctors connect the wifi network (configuring this on the handheld side is usually very easy), visit the server’s address either with a custom app or simply using the browser that’s included. The easiest way would just be to use the IP address of the server, similar to how you log into a wireless router or printer if you’re familiar with that. Once they’re connected to the server the software should run the same whether it’s truly online, or just available in your little travelling network.

I’m assuming the handsets don’t need to “speak” with each other, only the server. If that’s not the case, there’s ways to give them access to the same information, but it would make it more complicated I would imagine.

Since you’re information would all be on the two travelling servers, you could theoretically sync those with a truly online service each night if that makes things easier, or just keep everything local (and backed up).

I hope that makes sense, if I can explain anything better I’d be happy to. Thank you for taking the time to volunteer.

andrew's avatar

Seems like the stickiest part of the solution is interfacing with the electronic health records. Can you work out a deal where they provide a local copy of it? Or maybe you can convince them to use Google Gears for offline access?

I’m assuming these mobile units are on wheels? Where would your offline ‘server’ be located? In each mobile unit?

If all you’re doing is a one-way information push (your doctors don’t need access to the same patient information at different places during the same shift), then I’d think it’d be not that hard to have a low-cost server on each mobile unit, have it serve up a local network for your doctors, and then all you’d need to do is write the glue that pushes the data to the online electronic health record software. If they provide an API, that’d be even better.

How much data are we talking about inputting?

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