Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Sharing Cell Phones and Knowledge to Improve Healthcare in West Africa

Here's a high level case study around the development of a free tele-communications service that connects healthcare professionals in Ghana. In addition to the free network for doctors, Switchboard distributes directories to every doctor in the network, so they can find the right person in the country to communicate with when they need to.

Africa suffers more than 24% of the global burden of disease but has access to only 3% of health workers. With ratios as low as one doctor per 30,000 patients, they must be prepared to face a wide variety of conditions: high levels of disease, lack of basic supplies and medicines, deteriorating or substandard equipment, and, in remote areas, isolation from medical peers, One simple way to help is by providing better means for health professionals to share knowledge and collaborate with one another.

It's worth a read to understand the basic evolution of the service from a design and business development perspective. As well as creating a viable system based on strategic partnerships, the service is enabling a type of data collection that was before inconceivable. The SIM cards brought doctors into a calling network, and allowed Switchboard to track the specialties and locations of nearly every doctor practicing in Ghana. This was the first time this was possible in Ghana. They could see where all the OBGYN’s or pediatricians were located in the country, and how few surgeons there were. This data provided a broad view of the high-level healthcare needs, and served as the foundation for improving collaboration through their printed Doctor Directory, which was distributed to every doctor in the network.

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