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      Evidence on feasibility and effective use of mHealth strategies by frontline health workers in developing countries: systematic review*

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          Abstract

          Objectives

          Given the large-scale adoption and deployment of mobile phones by health services and frontline health workers (FHW), we aimed to review and synthesise the evidence on the feasibility and effectiveness of mobile-based services for healthcare delivery.

          Methods

          Five databases – MEDLINE, EMBASE, Global Health, Google Scholar and Scopus – were systematically searched for relevant peer-reviewed articles published between 2000 and 2013. Data were extracted and synthesised across three themes as follows: feasibility of use of mobile tools by FHWs, training required for adoption of mobile tools and effectiveness of such interventions.

          Results

          Forty-two studies were included in this review. With adequate training, FHWs were able to use mobile phones to enhance various aspects of their work activities. Training of FHWs to use mobile phones for healthcare delivery ranged from a few hours to about 1 week. Five key thematic areas for the use of mobile phones by FHWs were identified as follows: data collection and reporting, training and decision support, emergency referrals, work planning through alerts and reminders, and improved supervision of and communication between healthcare workers. Findings suggest that mobile based data collection improves promptness of data collection, reduces error rates and improves data completeness. Two methodologically robust studies suggest that regular access to health information via SMS or mobile-based decision-support systems may improve the adherence of the FHWs to treatment algorithms. The evidence on the effectiveness of the other approaches was largely descriptive and inconclusive.

          Conclusions

          Use of mHealth strategies by FHWs might offer some promising approaches to improving healthcare delivery; however, the evidence on the effectiveness of such strategies on healthcare outcomes is insufficient.

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          Most cited references 42

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          Motivation and retention of health workers in developing countries: a systematic review

          Background A key constraint to achieving the MDGs is the absence of a properly trained and motivated workforce. Loss of clinical staff from low and middle-income countries is crippling already fragile health care systems. Health worker retention is critical for health system performance and a key problem is how best to motivate and retain health workers. The authors undertook a systematic review to consolidate existing evidence on the impact of financial and non-financial incentives on motivation and retention. Methods Four literature databases were searched together with Google Scholar and 'Human Resources for Health' on-line journal. Grey literature studies and informational papers were also captured. The inclusion criteria were: 1) article stated clear reasons for implementing specific motivations to improve health worker motivation and/or reduce medical migration, 2) the intervention recommended can be linked to motivation and 3) the study was conducted in a developing country and 4) the study used primary data. Results Twenty articles met the inclusion criteria. They consisted of a mixture of qualitative and quantitative studies. Seven major motivational themes were identified: financial rewards, career development, continuing education, hospital infrastructure, resource availability, hospital management and recognition/appreciation. There was some evidence to suggest that the use of initiatives to improve motivation had been effective in helping retention. There is less clear evidence on the differential response of different cadres. Conclusion While motivational factors are undoubtedly country specific, financial incentives, career development and management issues are core factors. Nevertheless, financial incentives alone are not enough to motivate health workers. It is clear that recognition is highly influential in health worker motivation and that adequate resources and appropriate infrastructure can improve morale significantly.
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            Staffing remote rural areas in middle- and low-income countries: A literature review of attraction and retention

            Background Many countries in middle- and low-income countries today suffer from severe staff shortages and/or maldistribution of health personnel which has been aggravated more recently by the disintegration of health systems in low-income countries and by the global policy environment. One of the most damaging effects of severely weakened and under-resourced health systems is the difficulty they face in producing, recruiting, and retaining health professionals, particularly in remote areas. Low wages, poor working conditions, lack of supervision, lack of equipment and infrastructure as well as HIV and AIDS, all contribute to the flight of health care personnel from remote areas. In this global context of accelerating inequities health service policy makers and managers are searching for ways to improve the attraction and retention of staff in remote areas. But the development of appropriate strategies first requires an understanding of the factors which influence decisions to accept and/or stay in a remote post, particularly in the context of mid and low income countries (MLICS), and which strategies to improve attraction and retention are therefore likely to be successful. It is the aim of this review article to explore the links between attraction and retention factors and strategies, with a particular focus on the organisational diversity and location of decision-making. Methods This is a narrative literature review which took an iterative approach to finding relevant literature. It focused on English-language material published between 1997 and 2007. The authors conducted Pubmed searches using a range of different search terms relating to attraction and retention of staff in remote areas. Furthermore, a number of relevant journals as well as unpublished literature were systematically searched. While the initial search included articles from high- middle- and low-income countries, the review focuses on middle- and low-income countries. About 600 papers were initially assessed and 55 eventually included in the review. Results The authors argue that, although factors are multi-facetted and complex, strategies are usually not comprehensive and often limited to addressing a single or limited number of factors. They suggest that because of the complex interaction of factors impacting on attraction and retention, there is a strong argument to be made for bundles of interventions which include attention to living environments, working conditions and environments and development opportunities. They further explore the organisational location of decision-making related to retention issues and suggest that because promising strategies often lie beyond the scope of human resource directorates or ministries of health, planning and decision-making to improve retention requires multi-sectoral collaboration within and beyond government. The paper provides a simple framework for bringing the key decision-makers together to identify factors and develop multi-facetted comprehensive strategies. Conclusion There are no set answers to the problem of attraction and retention. It is only through learning about what works in terms of fit between problem analysis and strategy and effective navigation through the politics of implementation that any headway will be made against the almost universal challenge of staffing health service in remote rural areas.
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              Community Health Workers and Mobile Technology: A Systematic Review of the Literature

              Introduction In low-resource settings, community health workers are frontline providers who shoulder the health service delivery burden. Increasingly, mobile technologies are developed, tested, and deployed with community health workers to facilitate tasks and improve outcomes. We reviewed the evidence for the use of mobile technology by community health workers to identify opportunities and challenges for strengthening health systems in resource-constrained settings. Methods We conducted a systematic review of peer-reviewed literature from health, medical, social science, and engineering databases, using PRISMA guidelines. We identified a total of 25 unique full-text research articles on community health workers and their use of mobile technology for the delivery of health services. Results Community health workers have used mobile tools to advance a broad range of health aims throughout the globe, particularly maternal and child health, HIV/AIDS, and sexual and reproductive health. Most commonly, community health workers use mobile technology to collect field-based health data, receive alerts and reminders, facilitate health education sessions, and conduct person-to-person communication. Programmatic efforts to strengthen health service delivery focus on improving adherence to standards and guidelines, community education and training, and programmatic leadership and management practices. Those studies that evaluated program outcomes provided some evidence that mobile tools help community health workers to improve the quality of care provided, efficiency of services, and capacity for program monitoring. Discussion Evidence suggests mobile technology presents promising opportunities to improve the range and quality of services provided by community health workers. Small-scale efforts, pilot projects, and preliminary descriptive studies are increasing, and there is a trend toward using feasible and acceptable interventions that lead to positive program outcomes through operational improvements and rigorous study designs. Programmatic and scientific gaps will need to be addressed by global leaders as they advance the use and assessment of mobile technology tools for community health workers.
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                Author and article information

                Journal
                Trop Med Int Health
                Trop. Med. Int. Health
                tmi
                Tropical Medicine & International Health
                Blackwell Publishing Ltd (Oxford, UK )
                1360-2276
                1365-3156
                August 2015
                14 May 2015
                : 20
                : 8
                : 1003-1014
                Affiliations
                [1 ]Department of International Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Baltimore, MD, USA
                [2 ]Johns Hopkins Global mHealth Initiative Baltimore, MD, USA
                [3 ]mPowering Frontline Health Workers mPowering Frontline Health Workers, Washington, D.C
                Author notes
                Corresponding Author Alain Labrique, Department of International Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, W5501, 615 N. Wolfe St., 21205 Baltimore, MD, USA. E-mail: alabriq1@ 123456jhu.edu
                [*]

                free full access from http://www.tmih.com

                Article
                10.1111/tmi.12525
                4692099
                25881735
                © 2015 The Authors. Tropical Medicine & International Health Published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

                This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited and is not used for commercial purposes.

                Categories
                Systematic Reviews

                Medicine

                mobile health, health personnel, community health workers, mhealth

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