Smartphones improve Kenyan disease surveillance

By Mary Mosquera
09:44 AM

Smartphones show promise in disease surveillance in the developing world because it is faster, cheaper and more accurate than traditional paper survey methods to gather disease information after the initial set–up cost.

Smartphone data was more reliable than paper, according to the findings of the Kenya Ministry of Health and researchers in Kenya for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

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Survey data collected with smartphones in the study had fewer errors and were more quickly available for analyses than data collected on paper. For example, smartphone data were uploaded into the database within eight hours of collection compared with an average of 24 days for paper-based data to be uploaded, in a study released March 12 by CDC.

"Collecting data using smartphones has improved the quality of our data and given us a faster turnaround time to work with it," said Dr. Henry Njuguna, sentinel surveillance coordinator at CDC Kenya, adding that it also helped save on paper and other limited resources.

Researchers compared survey data collection methods at four influenza surveillance sites in Kenya. At each site, surveillance officers identified patients with respiratory illness and administered a brief questionnaire that included demographic and clinical information.

Some of the questionnaires were collected using traditional paper methods, and others were collected using HTC Touch Pro2 smartphones using a proprietary software program called the Field Adapted Survey Toolkit (FAST).

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Of the 1,019 questionnaires each by smartphone and paper, only 3 percent of the surveys collected with smartphones were incomplete compared with 5 percent of the paper–based questionnaires. Of the questions that required mandatory responses in the smartphone questionnaire, 4 percent were left unanswered in paper–based questionnaires compared with none of the smartphone questionnaires. Seven paper–based questionnaires had duplicated patient identification numbers, while no duplication was seen in smartphone data.

While the upfront costs to set up the systems were higher for the smartphones, the cost of collecting data by smartphones was lower in the long run than paper–based methods.