Alumni Innovators: Patricia Mechael

Patricia Mechael completed a PhD at LSHTM in 2006 on health-related uses of mobile phones in Egypt. In our latest innovation web-series, she describes what innovation means to her and how she uses it in her work…

Why did you decide to study at LSHTM?

In 2000, when I applied to doctoral programs to research how mobile phones could be used to improve access to health services and health information, LSHTM responded with incredible enthusiasm (unlike the other program to which I had applied). I had the great fortune to study under Simon Carter, a science and technology studies sociologist and Judy Green, a leading qualitative researcher.

How has your degree at LSHTM complemented your career?

My degree from LSHTM spring-boarded me into my work in mHealth (mobile health) and now in digital health. Without it, I would never have had the opportunity to work with WHO to landscape and define mHealth and to work on the national and organisational strategies, policies, and research needed to increase the effective use of technology for health.

What does innovation mean to you?

Innovation means making the most of the technology and science that currently exists, while staying a few steps ahead on where it is going and evolving. We have not scratched the surface in using many of the tools and innovations that exist to solve global health challenges. In the digital health field, we spend a lot of time using technology to strengthen health systems. However, we don’t do a very good job of engaging people in using technology that they already have to improve their own health and the health of their families.  The same goes for better equipping health professionals with tools to make their work better and increase quality of care.

How do you use innovation in your work?

I spend a lot of time helping governments, international agencies and organisations define their health priorities and outcomes of interest, or problems they want to solve. I then either strengthen early-adopted innovations or introduce new innovations to address them. Even though I do a lot of work in digital health, my primary focus is better health and well-being. The technology is a means to an end, not the end.

What advice do you have for current students?

No matter how wild you think your idea is, pursue it with all that you have until you reach a natural conclusion or launching-off point. Most of my public health colleagues thought I was a little crazy when I started my research on mobile phones and health. It took years for the field to catch up with me, but I learned so much and met so many amazing colleagues along the way that, whether or not it had taken off as a field, that made the pursuit of the idea worthwhile.

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