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Mobile devices can support palliative care services in sub-Saharan Africa

Author: Dr Matthew Allsop, Research Fellow in Applied Health, Leeds Institute of Health Sciences
03 March 2016

Research by the African Palliative Care Association (APCA) mHealth Research Network has found that mobile devices can support palliative care services in sub-Saharan Africa.

In July last year, ehospice published an article: ‘Can mobile phones enhance palliative care in sub-Saharan Africa’. The article described early plans by the African Palliative Care Association (APCA) and partners to explore what mobile phones can do to enhance palliative care in the region.

The APCA mHealth Research Network was subsequently formed and has been carrying out pilot work and developing plans for supporting the use of mobile devices in palliative care services.

The team has reported two key recent developments:

Publication of pilot research on mobile device use to support pharmacies in Uganda

APCA worked with Honexus, a software development company, to create an electronic system that can be accessed using a mobile technology device, such as a tablet computer or a mobile phone.

The system was designed for use by pharmacies that support palliative care services, replacing current paper-based records of patient information and medicine stock levels.

At present, operational tasks such as reporting on medicine availability and reviewing patient notes can be time consuming and burdensome for pharmacy and healthcare staff.

The newly created system was tailored to record information electronically to enable pharmacists to record and retrieve patient data easily and provide secure protection of patient confidentiality.

The system also provides pharmacists with information on which medication is close to being out of stock and which medicines are soon to expire.

This feature was designed to help pharmacists manage their medication stock more efficiently and to support continuous supply for patients.

The details and information captured by the system were designed to comply with regulatory requirements for pharmacies, such as entry of data on prescriptions and routine reporting of medicine stock levels.

APCA carried out a research project to explore how the system worked in a rural setting (Gombe Hospital) and an urban setting (Hospice Africa Uganda).

Both sites were provided with a tablet computer and a one-day face-to-face training session.

Support was also available to the sites during the study if help or advice was needed when using the system.

APCA looked at three key pieces of information:

  1. how well the system stored information on patients
  2. whether the system helped with efficiency in the running of services; and
  3. how the system supported medicine stock management.

The pilot study ran for nine months at each site and the findings were very promising.

A total of 455 patients were recorded on the system across both sites, which covered a total of 565 consultations.

Improvements in the time it took pharmacy staff to review patient and medicines information were observed.

Time to review pharmaceuticals data reduced from seven days to 30 minutes at the urban hospice, and from 10 days to one hour at the rural hospital.

The expiry of stock was also reduced, from 3% of stock to 0.5% at the urban hospice and from 58% to 0% at the rural hospital. These findings highlighted great improvements to the efficiency of both pharmacy services.

This pilot work reveals very positive gains from introducing electronic systems into the delivery of palliative care services.

The use of mobile devices make entry and retrieval of data very easy for staff.

The electronic system used in the pilot work is freely available for others to use and APCA are keen to support further work in using mobile devices as part of service delivery.

If you would like any help or support in how to begin planning and carrying out pilot work, please contact Eve Naminsango, Research Manager at APCA, on eve.namisango@africanpalliativecare.org.

If you would like support in conducting research on mobile devices in palliative care, please contact Dr Matthew Allsop from the University of Leeds on m.j.allsop@leeds.ac.uk.

The full research article describing the pilot project is available to download for free from the BMC Palliative Care website.

A survey to assess research priorities for mHealth development as part of sub-Saharan African palliative care services

The APCA mHealth Research Network have been developing a survey to explore how palliative care providers are using and would like to develop use of mobile devices.

The survey, which is available in English, French and Arabic, will be sent to palliative care providers across sub-Saharan Africa in February and March.

This is an exciting time for the APCA mHealth Research Network, given the opportunity to explore further benefits that can be gained from mobile devices.

Hearing the opinions and experiences of palliative care providers is essential to ensure that our work reflects their needs.

This is an important survey which will establish how mobile devices are currently being used in palliative care services and guide future research plans to increase their use.

If you would like to participate in the survey, please let us know! You can request a copy of the survey from Dr Matthew Allsop by emailing m.j.allsop@leeds.ac.uk.

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