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Texting for Transparency: Increasing Access to Health Services

Mwihaki Kimura Muraguri — Former Sr. Associate Director, Health, Africa Regional Office

The following post is part of a series based on research conducted around the health of the urban working poor

mobile health wallet
Local mother uses mobile phone to pay for health services. Photo credit: Elmvh

Lack of information about and awareness of health services often impede the urban working poor from accessing health services. With this in mind, there’s been a rapid increase in mobile technology programs for healthcare, spanning geographies, platforms, and diagnoses. In addition, many text- or hotline-based programs have been established to increase transparency in—and, crucially, access to—health systems.

While these exciting solutions seem to be the next big thing, they are not a silver bullet for eradicating health barriers.

New technologies have been developed to provide information on trusted providers or clinics that have lower wait times close to where people live or work—or to enroll individuals into existing health insurance products or make appointments. While these exciting solutions seem to be the next big thing, they are not a silver bullet for eradicating health barriers. Based on learnings from our partners, here are some important factors to consider when exploring mobile health solutions.

  • Treat technology as an enabler, not a solution itself: Successful mobile solutions do not focus on working with technology just because it is innovative and interesting, but rather because the creative application of an appropriate technology can solve a real problem for real people.
  • Distribution is critical: Though mobile solutions can be accessed by anyone with access to a cell phone, significant distribution and marketing is required to educate people and ensure help reaches them.
  • Costs should be kept to a minimum, though requiring some payment might increase interest: The costs of using the application—including the cost of texts, phone usage, or battery—should be considered in any solution, although free services are sometimes not valued as much as services that request a nominal fee.
  • Establish trust and credibility: Urban poor populations have reported that the presence of ads on mHealth platforms diminishes the platform’s perceived legitimacy, resulting in decreased trust in recommendations.
  • Don’t underestimate how costly mobile solutions can be: While mobile solutions may seem easy to scale since reaching a large population via text is much easier than in-person engagement, mobile solutions still require significant back-end management costs, such as marketing, content creation, and system implementation.

There’s no easy, “one-size-fits-all” approach to helping people navigate health systems. But with careful planning and thought, we’ve got a great opportunity to shine more sunlight onto a healthcare system that desperately needs it.

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