Technology, Innovation and Entrepreneurship in the Health Workforce

Mark Marino, MPH, Seed Global HealthBlog, Featured, Liberia, Medicine, Nursing, Tanzania

Tomorrow marks the start of this year’s Skoll World Forum, an event focused on social entrepreneurship, innovation, and solutions to the world’s most pressing problems. As in previous years, there promises to be robust conversation on increasing access to quality health services by leveraging the power of technology.

With the supply of health workers in developing countries not meeting the demand, it is important to identify innovative technology that can help doctors, nurses, midwives, and community health workers provide effective and efficient patient care.

With nearly two-thirds of the world’s population in possession of a cell phone, mobile health (mHealth) in particular has enormous potential to support health workers. Consider one way that mobile is being used to empower nurses. Research shows that often nurses feel unsupported in the workplace, and have to contend with outdated information, protocols, and limited professional development opportunities. NurseConnect, a text message service developed in partnership with the Ministry of Health of South Africa, offers nurses and midwives access to a suite of mobile services, including nursing registration, targeted support messages, and in-depth information aiming to improve medical knowledge and professional skills development. The goals are to encourage personal growth and self-improvement, and provide inspiration and recognition for the nursing profession.

This is just one example of the promise of mobile to support and empower front line health professionals. Mobile tech for health is now so prolific, in fact, that the United Stated Agency for International Development funded the creation of mhealthknowledge.org to establish a portal of mHealth information and resources.

And yet while new technology introduces tools that extend the impact of current and future health professionals, we must never forget that health care starts with the health worker: the nurse, the midwife, the doctor, and the community health worker. As we invest in new technology, we must also invest in the providers themselves so that we have a sufficient pipeline of skilled, confident, and supported front line professionals able to meet local health need.

At Seed Global Health, we know that health professionals play the central role in ensuring that individuals and communities have access to quality care. Seed’s long-term, human-centered approach to teaching and training health workers has already seen strong early results. In four years, we have trained more than 13,000 health professionals across five African countries. Seed’s use of innovative technology to support these professionals is aimed at improving the education, practice, and policy environment that help support strong health professionals and we have integrated technology in each of those care areas.

Health Professional Education

With class sizes swelling up to 80 students or more, classroom management and communication beyond lectures becomes difficult. Clinical Educator Jason Kroening-Roché, MD, MPH trained 27 faculty in Tanzania’s Hubert Kairuki Memorial University (HKMU) on how to use Google Classroom, an effective platform to simplify creating, distributing and grading assignments while streamlining communication between teachers and students. All 27 of those HKMU faculty are still using Google Classroom more than a year later, integrating the platform into their courses and curricula. In another Tanzanian partner site – the University of Dodoma – Clinical Educator Janelle Billig helped implement both Google Classroom and a novel tool, Zipgrade, to help save for her and her local colleagues hours of time previously spent grading exams.

Clinical Practice

Nursing Educator Mary O’Sullivan introduced the use of educational tablets at Liberia’s Phebe Paramedical Training Center, through a partnership with Health eVillages, to help provide students and faculty in nursing anesthesia greater access to up-to-date resources in the clinical environment. Both as a reference source and in support of their role as clinical educators, her learners and local counterparts found the method to be valuable and supportive of their work.  Results from initial survey evaluations indicate the tool has been a success.  Quotes include,  “this helped me managing a patient with a difficult airway,” “this helped me give my patient the right drug,” and “this helped me teach my junior students about pain assessment.” The goal is to expand the tablets so that every new student at Phebe would receive a tablet upon enrollment in the program.

Policy

With the world’s highest prevalence of HIV and TB/HIV co-infection, Swaziland has a critical need for a well-trained and sustainable workforce of health professionals. Seed has partnered with the Swaziland Nursing Council (SNC) to develop an innovative approach to standardizing clinical competencies assessed within the training program: the General Nursing Clinical Log Book (GNCLB). This will become a model for validating clinical competencies for each graduate, and has potential online eLearning applications for broader dissemination to nurses throughout Swaziland.

Technology holds great promise to support, empower, and assist health professionals in providing quality care. Yet advances in technology mean nothing without a core of competent and qualified providers to deploy them. New ways of integrating entrepreneurial thinking and technological aides into health professional education can ensure local health professionals have the skills, knowledge, and experience to innovate and solve current and future health challenges.