Microsoft deploys biometric TB monitoring system

Bill Thies

Microsoft recently introduced a newly developed biometric monitoring system designed to aid patients in completing tuberculosis treatment programs.

Microsoft Research India’s Technology for Emerging Markets Group said that it created the system in response to the large number of patients who fail to finish their treatment regimen and risk spreading deadlier and more resistant forms of the infection.

Treatment requires more than 40 clinic visits over a six-month period. Many of the diagnosed find it difficult to leave their jobs to go to a clinic and often lack knowledge about the importance of the medicine and the risk of not taking every dose.

“The way it works in India and around the world is that it’s so important to finish the course of medication that patients must come to clinics to take the medication under the supervision of health workers,” Bill Thies, the system’s lead researcher, said. “It’s called directly observed therapy.

“If patients start to feel better — which happens a few weeks after starting the medication — and they’re told they need to take a trip to the center at least once per week for the next six months, there’s an education barrier there. They say, ‘Why is it important for me to continue taking medication if I don’t have any symptoms?’”

Thies said that without the biometric system, healthcare workers must keep meticulous handwritten records. In the crowded and often frenetic health clinics in India, mistakes are often made and healthcare workers sometimes wait until individual treatment cards are due then fill them in erroneously.

“From an administration standpoint, if you’re running a treatment program that has 225 centers, how do you ensure quality of care across the centers?” Thies said. “Really there’s no substitute for having an infallible, tamper-proof record.”

The system consists of three integrated devices – a fingerprint reader, a low-cost laptop and a GSM modem. Every time a patient arrives for treatment their finger is scanned. The information is then recorded and sent to a central office, where it is stored and analyzed.

“A key benefit is that the patient can never fake having come to the clinic because they actually have to come and provide their fingerprint so the organization knows they were there,” Thies said. “And if someone misses a dose, their supervisor gets an SMS that says, ‘Today, these patients have missed their doses. You need to follow up in their homes.’”

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