Scale the Technology Now: Separating Content and Technology in Digital Health

At this year’s Global Digital Health Forum, I was excited to see the range of ways that digital tools are helping us move towards a healthier world. Despite the variation in the types of programs presented, two questions came up in nearly every conference session: “How do we get these approaches to scale, quickly and sustainably?” and “How can we evaluate these approaches to understand which parts are most effective?”

A new white paper from mPowering and Qualcomm® Wireless Reach™ proposes a simple solution to help answer these questions: separate the technology and its content. Scale the Technology Now balances public health and engineering perspectives to propose a new way of looking at the procurement, implementation, and evaluation of mobile health programs.

Most mobile health systems consist of two basic parts: a channel and its content.  For example, a smartphone (channel) can be used to distribute educational videos (content) to a health worker.

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Despite these two distinct parts, analyses of health interventions too rarely separate the functionality of the channel from the effectiveness of the content. For example, systematic reviews may consist of programs which only share the fact that the programs utilize technology, despite their separate methods, goals, and contexts. Viewing the technology and the content as a single element makes it difficult to accurately assess the success of either factor.

Scale the Technology Now reminds us that “In almost all cases… the engineering problem is ‘solved’ long before the problem related to the health intervention is addressed.” The crucial elements of a successful digital health system are found in the content, deployment, and context, rather than the basic functions of specific software or hardware.

This same idea helped mPowering develop the Open Deliver process for mobile content delivery. Open Deliver is a process-based solution designed to provide educational content to workforces in low-resource settings. It streamlines digital content delivery by reconfiguring existing technologies into a single integrated process. For example, Open Deliver enables content from mPowering’s freely available ORB platform to be structured through a learning management system and delivered to health workers via a user-friendly mobile application.

Separating content and technology increases our ability to create processes and systems that can cross sectors and easily adapt to improvements in technology. It allows us to see mobile training processes and technologies not as approaches for a specific audience or subject area but as distribution methods that could be used for health, agriculture, disaster response, or nearly any other area.

To learn more, read Scale the Technology Now: Applying Engineering Principles to Promote Rapid Deployment of Mobile Digital Content Delivery Systems, which was authored by Mike Bailey for mPowering Frontline Health Workers, with sponsorship from Qualcomm Wireless Reach. It is available on our web site here, and we welcome your questions or responses at info@mpoweringhealth.org

 

Photo credit: Kate Holt/ MCSP