Qualcomm project gives mHealth a boost in South Africa

From the mHealthNews archive
By Eric Wicklund

mHealth is catching on in South Africa, according to a recent study undertaken by Qualcomm.

The San Diego-based telecommunications giant recently funded and managed a Mobile Health Information System (MHIS) project in that country through its Qualcomm Wireless Reach initiative. Launched in 2009 with the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University School of Clinical Care Sciences (NMMU), MTN South Africa, FHI 360 and the Eastern Cape Department of Health (ECDOH), the project has provided roughly 175 doctors and nurses with 3G-enables, commercially available smartphones and tablets loaded with clinical decision support tools.

According to Qualcomm officials, a study conducted during the project's second phase, which began in 2012, found that accessing information on mobile devices at the point of care helped:

  • All of the nurses and more than 80 percent of the doctors in making an accurate diagnosis;
  • All of the nurses and more than 92 percent of the doctors in prescribing the correct treatment for their patients; and
  • 96 percent of the nurses and more than 80 percent of the doctors in correctly prescribing medication.

Also, according to Qualcomm officials, the study found that:

  • 96 percent of the nurses and more than 76 percent of the doctors said they frequently refer to the mobile library when they're unsure of treatments;
  • More than 97 percent of the nurses and 81 percent of the doctors used the mobile reference tools to find relevant information on health conditions and treatment;
  • More than 97 percent of the nurses and 76 percent of the doctors used those tools to provide up-to-date information to their patients; and
  • All of the nurses used those tools to improve their own knowledge of the management and treatment of various conditions.

The project began in 2009 as a pilot involving 50 nurses at the Port Elizabeth Hospital Complex and expanded in 2012 to add 125 nurses and doctors working in rural and urban primary healthcare facilities in South Africa's Eastern Cape region, where many doctors and nurses can't access the Internet on a regular basis. All content on the smartphones and tablets was downloaded from the ECDOH mobile library portal, which was developed by FHI 360.

Qualcomm has since transferred project management to the ECDOH. In addition, officials said, the MHIS project will be used by NMMU in its nursing curriculum, and MTN South Africa – which provides wireless network services throughout the continent – will be offering discounted devices and airtime to healthcare providers to help expand mHealth capabilities.