The Health Extension Workers (HEWs) in our maternal healthcare project have now been using the smartphones for almost 6 months, so we’re starting to build up a really good picture about what works and where there are issues. Most of the information here is based on field reports Araya has been sending back following the training sessions he has been running and follow up discussions with the HEWs.
For the last 2 months (since mid-November), the HEWs have been using the phones for recording real patient encounters, previously they were submitting test data, whilst they got used to the phones and protocols. We now have around 200 patient encounters recorded from 10 HEWs and 2 Midwives, including 12 delivery records.
The feedback we have received from the HEWs and midwives has been very positive. They seem most comfortable using the Tigrinyan versions of the protocols, HEWs can switch between English and Tigrinyan and are free to enter text data in either Latin or Ge’ez script, although very few questions require any text input. The HEWs and mothers seem very happy with using the protocols, as it checks that all the right questions are being asked during the patient encounter.
From a technical point of view, the phones are working well. There are some times when the GPRS connection is poor, so the HEWs are unable to submit the records immediately, but they are able to once the connection is restored a day or so later. We don’t seem to have had any major problems regarding recharging of the phones, although some HEWs have commented that battery life can be poor.
The main issues we have come up against so far are:
Patient Identification. This was always going to be an issue, since there isn’t a standard regional/national patient record number we can readily use. Each Health Post records patient visits in a log book and the patient id is simply the number of the next row in their log book. To try to save confusion between patients having different references in the log book and the electronic protocols, we are identifying patients by a combination of the health post name and the id from the log book – which also makes it easier to cross-reference between the two systems. Unfortunately we are getting a number of cases where patient id numbers are being entered on the protocols inconsistently or incorrectly. This may cause a visit record to be recorded against a non-existent patient registration, or, worse, against the wrong patient. However we are recording the patient age and year of birth on every protocol form submitted, so this helps to identify where errors may have occurred, but would be good to try to stop this happening in the first place. We are looking at a variety of ways in which we can resolve this, for example barcodes or fingerprints, but none of these are easy to implement.
Length of Visits. Some HEWs have mentioned that using the protocols takes a long time. I think it was always likely that the protocol forms would increase the time for a patient encounter. Not necessarily solely due to the technology, but also because we are asking them to ask quite a comprehensive set of questions and a physical examination. Previously, without the electronic protocols, the patient encounters may not have been as thorough.
From the start/end times (automatically logged by the phones) we can identify roughly how long an ante-natal care visit takes a HEW to complete, for an ante-natal care first visit the average time for the patient encounter is around 20 minutes
HEW engagement. We have a wide disparity in the number of visit records being entered by different HEWs. Some are recording visits regularly, whereas others have hardly entered any. We are looking in to the reasons for this and how we can encourage those who aren’t participating to take a more active role. There are many possible reasons for this, perhaps technical issues, not understanding what advantages using the protocols may bring, or that they have been out of post on other training.
Over the coming few weeks we hope to find ways in which we can address these issues.