Integrating mHealth at point of care in low- and middle-income settings : the system perspective

Wallis, Lee ; Blessing, Paul ; Dalwai, Mohammed ; Shin, Sang Do (2017)

CITATION: Wallis, L., et al. 2017. Integrating mHealth at point of care in low- and middle-income settings : the system perspective. Global Health Action, 10(sup3): 1327686, doi:10.1080/16549716.2017.1327686.

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While the field represents a wide spectrum of products and services, many aspects of mHealth have great promise within resource-poor settings: there is an extensive range of cheap, widely available tools which can be used at the point of care delivery. However, there are a number of conditions which need to be met if such solutions are to be adequately integrated into existing health systems; we consider these from regulatory, technological and user perspectives. We explore the need for an appropriate legislative and regulatory framework, to avoid ‘work around’ solutions, which threaten patient confidentiality (such as the extensive use of instant messaging services to deliver sensitive clinical information and seek diagnostic and management advice). In addition, we will look at other confidentiality issues such as the need for applications to remove identifiable information (such as photos) from users’ devices. Integration is dependent upon multiple technological factors, and we illustrate these using examples such as products made available specifically for adoption in low- and middle-income countries. Issues such as usability of the application, signal loss, data volume utilization, need to enter passwords, and the availability of automated or in-app context-relevant clinical advice will be discussed. From a user perspective, there are three groups to consider: experts, front-line clinicians, and patients. Each will accept, to different degrees, the use of technology in care – often with cultural or regional variation – and this is central to integration and uptake. For clinicians, ease of integration into daily work flow is critical, as are familiarity and acceptability of other technology in the workplace. Front-line staff tend to work in areas with more challenges around cell phone signal coverage and data availability than ‘back-end’ experts, and the effect of this is discussed.

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