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Dimagi’s software, CommCare, was found to be the most popular mobile platform among frontline health workers in developing countries, according to a recent report from Johns Hopkins University’s Global mHealth Initiative. Titled “Mobile Technology in Support of Frontline Health Workers,” the report summarized data from more than 140 frontline-supported mHealth projects. The findings from the report provide a look at the current state of mobile technology used by frontline health workers (FLHWs), and provide insights for future development and growth in the industry.

In this post, you’ll learn key highlights from the Johns Hopkins report, including the variety of ways mobile devices are used to manage patient care, and a look at the future of mHealth.

Software Supporting Frontline Health Care

At Dimagi, we develop software technology to help improve service delivery across sectors from health to agriculture in underserved communities. The study found that Dimagi’s platform, CommCare, was ranked the most frequently used mobile platform for supporting frontline health worker projects. CommCare offers a platform for rapid development of mobile applications, which are used for ongoing, longitudinal case management. Thanks to CommCare’s user-friendly, open-source platform, anyone can create powerful apps on the CommCare platform.

Leveraging the Power of Mobile Devices in Healthcare

One reason we’re excited about this report is it provides a lot of data on the burgeoning area of mobile technology support for improving community health. The report structures the use of Mobile health tools, also known as “mHealth,” across 12 functions:

  • Data collection
  • Electronic decision support
  • Provider training and education
  • Provider to provider communication
  • Electronic health records
  • Client education and behavior change communication
  • Sensors and point-of-care diagnostics
  • Supply chain management
  • Financial transactions and incentives
  • Provider work planning and scheduling
  • Registries and vital events tracking
  • Human resource management

While some mobile solutions focus on one or two of these functions, CommCare was designed so that healthcare programs could integrate several functions into the same tool. This allows for data to be shared across the various use cases and the programs to be more efficient and accurate. For example, the same application can help frontline workers track stock of medicines, build patient education program, collect health diagnostic data, and report on its activity and performance.

Africa and Asia Led With Most Projects

The databases used in the Johns Hopkin’s report include some of the biggest mHealth compendiums – including the Center for Health and Market Innovations (CHMI) database, WHO eHealth Observatory, NetHope and USAID mHealth Compendia 1-5. The data indicated that regionally, Africa had the highest number of reported projects with 91, while Asia had 43, and a handful came from Central America, Caribbean, North America, South America and Europe. The countries that reported the most feedback on projects include Kenya (23), Tanzania (22), India (21), Uganda (12), Ghana (12), Nigeria (10), Malawi (10), Ethiopia (8), Pakistan (7), Philippines (7).

Variety of Mobile Health Tools

More than half of FLHWs are Community Health Workers (CHW). CHWs use mobile tools primarily for electronic decision support (34 percent), data collection (33 percent), and patient education (19 percent). Over 40 percent of FLHWs are located in formal facilities with nurses, doctors and other medical staff.

CHWs mostly use smartphones, while a much smaller number use feature phones. Reproductive health, family planning, child health and maternal health are the focus of the majority of projects that employ frontline healthcare workers and mobile tools. HIV/AIDS, vector-borne and parasitic diseases were the focus of 25 percent of health programs. A smaller number of projects concentrated on nutrition, mental health, non-communicable diseases and violence.

A Look To the Future

Looking toward the future of mHealth, ongoing challenges highlighted in the report, include:

  • Interoperability issues and a shortage of information on data architecture standards
  • Lack of evidence on costs and cost-effectiveness of alternative approaches
  • The reliability of cost-analysis due to incompleteness of data
  • Single function projects can be scaled rapidly but are limited in scope, while multi-function projects have more utility but are limited to narrow use-cases
  • The need for a consistent framework for developing, implementing and evaluating mHealth projects that can best address these issues

At Dimagi, we are actively working on each of these challenges and strive to collaborate across the industry to help bring the mHealth sector to a more robust state.

We believe the MOTECH Suite is a key solution to integrating mHealth projects at scale, and of building a national platform that link together multi-faceted programs. Led by our team, with support from the Grameen Foundation and funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the MOTECH Suite is an industry-leading suite of mobile and cloud-based technologies, including CommCare. MOTECH Suite was formed to combine the power of frontline mobile applications with the integration and orchestration of data across an entire ecosystem. If you’re interested in learning more about the MOTECH Suite and projects that are using the platform, click below to download a relevant case study:  

Download MOTECH Suite Case Study

Furthermore, our team has been actively working to address the challenges around cost-analysis by building a knowledge base on both sides of the cost-benefit equation:

  • On the cost side, we published a “Total Cost of Ownership” model to help assess the comprehensive cost of mHealth programs and are planning on releasing a few more budgeting tools, taking into account the complexity of programs’ structures.
  • On the impact side, CommCare is the most evidence-based widely used mobile platform for frontline workers, with more than 40 impact studies, that we summarized in our “Evidence Base” report.

We’re excited by the direction the mHealth industry is headed, and we’re committed to addressing the challenges mentioned in the Johns Hopkins report. Let us know your thoughts on the key findings in the comments section below.