Using mobile phones to strengthen diagnostic services

Todd Vandenbark

close up of microscopeA recent study (Tuijn, Hoefman et al. 2011) sought to “determine the feasibility of using mobile phones for capturing microscopy images and transferring these to a central database for assessment, feedback and educational purposes.” In Low- and Middle Income Countries (LMIC), poor communication and long distances between rural health clinics and their urban counterparts makes providing healthcare a challenge. A critical aspect of public health and healthcare is access to laboratory services usually not found in remote areas. With the number of mobile phone subscribers often exceeding fixed line users in these countries, making use of this technology and its ability to take and transmit digital images could improve access to laboratory services.

Uganda’s multi-level health system served as the location for this proof-of-concept test. Using a traditional light microscope connected to a Java-enabled mobile phone with built-in camera, specially designed software for data transfer and labeling, and anonymous laboratory samples, researchers were able to capture interpretable images and video at different resolutions. Some phones worked better than others for this, and file size limited the number of images that can be sent at one time.

Another valuable aspect of this study is that it “used a bottom-up approach.”

End users and stakeholders were included in the design process and the initial testing of the system, increasing the chance of our concept to meaningfully improve laboratory services and support health workers and practitioners in their diagnosis and training.

Members of remote clinics expressed even expressed an interest in sharing slides between clinics for knowledge sharing and education. And health sciences students could benefit from having web access to multiple examples of similar conditions instead of a relative few in a textbook.


Tuijn, C. J., B. J. Hoefman, et al. (2011). “Data and Image Transfer Using Mobile Phones to Strengthen Microscopy-Based Diagnostic Services in Low and Middle Income Country Laboratories.” PLoS ONE 6(12): e28348.