Objective: Currently clinicians in sub-Saharan Africa have limited access to the Internet, whereas mobile phone access and use is extensive. The University of Pennsylvania in collaboration with the National Library of Medicine launched txt2MEDLINE, a short messaging service (SMS) query of PubMed/MEDLINE, and SMS-optimized clinical guidelines in Botswana. The objective of this project was to establish and evaluate the utility of these tools for clinicians in Botswana.
Materials and methods: A local server was established at the University of Botswana that allowed clinicians to send queries and receive results via local (in-country) SMS text messaging on any type of cellular phone. The queries sent via txt2MEDLINE were returned as abbreviated "the bottom line" summaries of abstracts. The 2007 Botswana Treatment Guide was converted into a format that can be queried by SMS. Various types of healthcare workers were recruited to use and evaluate these services.
Results: Seventy-six healthcare workers attended training sessions for these services. In the preusage survey, most said they would use the services daily or weekly. During a 4-week trial period, use of these services dropped off dramatically. Participant feedback was collected and indicated that improvements in ease of use would increase the usage.
Conclusions: This pilot project enables clinicians to query and receive PubMed abstract summaries and country-specific clinical guidelines using mobile phones. Feedback offers insight on how to improve this technology so that it can be adopted for long-term use. With further adjustments, these resources may provide an effective working model for other countries where limited Internet access impedes upon patient care.