Using mobile phone text messages (SMS) to collect health service data: Lessons from social franchises in Kenya, Madagascar and the Philippines

Judy GOLD, Harriet ANDREWS, Gabrielle APPLEFORD, Boni RAMANANTSOA, Odile HANITRINIAINA, Rostom DEIPARINE, Nick CORBY

Abstract


Aim: To identify the key factors for success in using mobile phone text messages (SMS) to collect health service data.
Methods: The SMS data collection systems implemented in Marie Stopes International social franchises in Kenya, Madagascar and the Philippines were examined. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with key programme staff and social franchisees (the end-users) to assess system design, implementation and evaluation. Direct system observation, review of system documentation and analysis of system data were also conducted.
Results: The SMS data collection systems were designed and implemented separately; each system primarily aimed to improve the timeliness of service data collection from social franchisees. Some systems included automated data validation and/or reporting functions. In all settings some paper-based reporting was retained alongside the SMS system. In Madagascar the system enabled access to service data at the end of each month instead of two months later; in the Philippines the system permitted weekly rather than monthly collection of service data. The primary difficulty experienced by end-users was the requirement to submit data in a specified and inflexible format.
Discussion: Although the SMS data collection systems did not eliminate the need for paper-based reporting, they increased the timeliness of health service data collection in Madagascar and the Philippines, thus increasing program efficiency. Based on our experiences, we suggest that organizations consider local and flexible system design, adequate support and training, simple and intuitive input messages and inclusion of automated data validation and reporting functions when designing SMS based data collection systems.

Keywords


Mobile phones; SMS; text message; developing countries; data collection.

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