Perspectives of Nonphysician Clinical Students and Medical Lecturers on Tablet-Based Health Care Practice Support for Medical Education in Zambia, Africa: Qualitative Study

JMIR Mhealth Uhealth. 2019 Jan 15;7(1):e12637. doi: 10.2196/12637.


Background: Zambia is faced with a severe shortage of health workers and challenges in national health financing. This burdens the medical licentiate practitioner (MLP) program for training nonphysician clinical students in Zambia because of the shortage of qualified medical lecturers and learning resources at training sites. To address this shortage and strengthen the MLP program, a self-directed electronic health (eHealth) platform was introduced, comprising technology-supported learning (e-learning) for medical education and support for health care practice. MLP students were provided with tablets that were preloaded with content for offline access.

Objective: This study aimed to explore MLP students' and medical lecturers' perceptions of the self-directed eHealth platform with an offline-based tablet as a training and health care practice support tool during the first year of full implementation.

Methods: We conducted in-depth qualitative interviews with 8 MLP students and 5 lecturers and 2 focus group discussions with 16 students to gain insights on perceptions of the usefulness, ease of use, and adequacy of self-directed e-learning and health care practice support accessible through the offline-based tablet. Participants were purposively sampled. Verbatim transcripts were analyzed following hypothesis coding.

Results: The eHealth platform (e-platform), comprising e-learning for medical education and health care practice support, was positively received by students and medical lecturers and was seen as a step toward modernizing the MLP program. Tablets enabled equal access to offline learning contents, thus bridging the gap of slow or no internet connections. The study results indicated that the e-platform appears adequate to strengthen medical education within this low-resource setting. However, student self-reported usage was low, and medical lecturer usage was even lower. One stated reason was the lack of training in tablet usage and another was the quality of the tablets. The mediocre quality and quantity of most e-learning contents were perceived as a primary concern as materials were reported to be outdated, missing multimedia features, and addressing only part of the curriculum. Medical lecturers were noted to have little commitment to updating or creating new learning materials. Suggestions for improving the e-platform were given.

Conclusions: To address identified major challenges, we plan to (1) introduce half-day training sessions at the beginning of each study year to better prepare users for tablet usage, (2) further update and expand e-learning content by fostering collaborations with MLP program stakeholders and nominating an e-platform coordinator, (3) set up an e-platform steering committee including medical lecturers, (4) incorporate e-learning and e-based health care practice support across the curriculum, as well as (5) implement processes to promote user-generated content. With these measures, we aim to sustainably strengthen the MLP program by implementing the tablet-based e-platform as a serious learning technology for medical education and health care practice support.

Keywords: Africa, Southern; Zambia; allied health occupations; computer-assisted decision making; computers, handheld; education; educational technology; information dissemination; mobile apps.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Computers, Handheld / standards*
  • Computers, Handheld / statistics & numerical data
  • Education, Medical / methods*
  • Education, Medical / standards
  • Female
  • Focus Groups / methods
  • Health Personnel / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic / methods
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Perception*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Teaching / psychology
  • Teaching / standards
  • Zambia