Healthcare delivery in the rural developing world is limited by a severe shortage of health workers as well as profound communicative and geographic barriers. Understaffed hospitals are forced to provide care for patients that reside at a great distance from the institutions themselves, sometimes more than 100 miles away. Community health workers (CHWs), volunteers from local villages, have been integral in bridging this patient-physician gap, but still lose enormous of amounts of time in transit between hospital and village. We report the results of a retrospective mobile health (mHealth) pilot at St. Gabriel’s Hospital in Malawi designed to eliminate many of these trips in favor of communication via text messages. A group of 75 CHWs were supplied with cell phones and trained to utilize the network for a variety of usage cases, including patient adherence reporting, appointment reminders, and physician queries. At the end of the pilot, the hospital saved approximately 2,048 hours of worker time, $2,750 on net ($3,000 in fuel savings minus $250 in operational costs), and doubled the capacity of the tuberculosis treatment program (up to 200 patients). We conclude that mHealth interventions can provide cost-effective solutions to communication barriers in the setting of rural hospitals in the developing world.
Mahmud N, Rodriguez J, Nesbit J. A text message-based intervention to bridge the healthcare communication gap in the rural developing world. Technol Health Care. 2010;18(2):137-144.