A mobile phone-based, community health worker program for referral, follow-up, and service outreach in rural Zambia: outcomes and overview.
BACKGROUND: Mobile health (m-health) utilizes widespread access to mobile phone technologies to expand health services. Community health workers (CHWs) provide first-level contact with health facilities; combining CHW efforts with m-health may be an avenue for improving primary care services. As part of a primary care improvement project, a pilot CHW program was developed using a mobile phone-based application for outreach, referral, and follow-up between the clinic and community in rural Zambia.
MATERIALS AND METHODS: The program was implemented at six primary care sites. Computers were installed at clinics for data entry, and data were transmitted to central servers. In the field, using a mobile phone to send data and receive follow-up requests, CHWs conducted household health surveillance visits, referred individuals to clinic, and followed up clinic patients.
RESULTS: From January to April 2011, 24 CHWs surveyed 6,197 households with 33,304 inhabitants. Of 15,539 clinic visits, 1,173 (8%) had a follow-up visit indicated and transmitted via a mobile phone to designated CHWs. CHWs performed one or more follow-ups on 74% (n=871) of active requests and obtained outcomes on 63% (n=741). From all community visits combined, CHWs referred 840 individuals to a clinic.
CONCLUSIONS: CHWs completed all planned aspects of surveillance and outreach, demonstrating feasibility. Components of this pilot project may aid clinical care in rural settings and have potential for epidemiologic and health system applications. Thus, m-health has the potential to improve service outreach, guide activities, and facilitate data collection in Zambia.
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