For my loyal fans out there (aka Mom), you’ll know that last October I was privileged to compete in the ITU Telecom Union‘s Digital Innovators competition (a competition that has since been adapted to only work with Young Innovators, a small distinction really as I could have competed in either). At the ITU competition, I submitted an idea that came to be called “mEduText” – medical…education…text messages. Well, unfortunately I didn’t win any money for the project, which could potentially save thousands of lives by providing healthcare workers in the most hard to reach areas of the world with the most up to date information in the care, prevention and treatment of infectious diseases.
So, as is my custom, I have not given up on the idea. But I have revamped it. I just submitted it to the Ashoka Changemakers competition for Innovations for Health: Solutions the Cross Borders. The project is called mEduText: SMS Learning Communities to Improve the Quality of Healthcare in Rural Africa, and it’s a bit different than I first intended.
I’ve been thinking a lot about FrontlineSMS and about collaborative learning and development, and all of that brainstorming led to something new (to me anyway, I’m sure someone else has come up with it/will come up with it again). The idea is, sure, we send messages from the experts at IDI to healthcare workers in Uganda. There’s a pretty good chance that those messages will be read and that eventually they might change how people act in their clinical practice. But there’s also a good chance that a busy health worker will get the message…and forget about it. So how do we make 160 characters stick in the brain? Get rid of the far-away experts and let every health worker be an expert. We’ll make an SMS listserv on FrontlineSMS where a health worker can subscribe to a topic that interests them, let’s say “paediatrics,” and then they get weekly updates about the newest information in paediatrics, but they can also text in to the paediatrics group with questions. Someone will have to do some quality control work, but I have a feeling the people who are paying to send a message will use their 130 Ugandan Shillings sparingly. Not only can you ask a question to the group, you can respond to a question someone else wrote. You can text them directly or respond to the whole group if you want to get more feedback. This will need a bit of training, but not much once we get it out in the field. Health workers train each other.
Part of the motivation of this model was our latest tech workshop. For the past three weeks, we’ve been training health workers in Paediatric HIV care on how to use mobile phones and computers for distance learning. When we had one computer per health worker, the sessions were stressful and people were getting lost. This week, due to circumstances beyond our control, we have 2-3 trainees per computer. They’re getting it. They support each other, the computer becomes less intimidating, the mouse and keyboard, more of a silly thing to play with than a confusing device to be overwhelmed by. They’re teaching each other how to do it, even when the total computer literacy out of a group of three trainees may be enough to turn on a computer and move the mouse.
It’s pretty great.