WhatsApp Linking Lilongwe, Malawi to Los Angeles: Impacting Medical Education and Clinical Management

Ann Glob Health. 2021 Feb 18;87(1):20. doi: 10.5334/aogh.3156.


Background: Subspecialty expertise is often lacking in clinical environments in low-resource settings. As a result, medically complicated patients can receive suboptimal care, local clinicians can feel inadequately supported, and global health engagements can be difficult for medical trainees accustomed to more expert supervision at their home institutions.

Objective: We created WhatsApp Messenger discussion groups to connect subspecialists at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) David Geffen School of Medicine with clinicians and rotating global health residents at Partners in Hope (PIH) Medical Center in Lilongwe, Malawi.

Methods: Case submitters and subspecialist respondents were surveyed about their experience in the discussion groups.

Findings: Over a three-year period, 95 cases were discussed in ten subspecialty groups, with dermatology and radiology/pulmonology receiving the most submissions. Participants were surveyed and reported excellent educational outcomes; large majorities of both case submitters (89%) and experts (71%) agreed or strongly agreed that the case discussions improved their medical education. The surveys also suggested positive impact on medical management decisions and patient outcomes. The major challenge to our intervention was low utilization of this resource by Malawian clinicians in comparison to medical residents. We hope to further address the barriers to participation and adapt the intervention to better support our Malawian colleagues.

Conclusion: Because the discussion groups are free to create and require very little maintenance, this intervention can be easily replicated at other institutions looking to augment their global health educational engagements and support their clinical partners abroad.