Smartphones shown to boost disease surveillance capabilities

The development of smartphone technology has the potential to boost the disease surveillance capability of developing countries.

Researchers in Kenya found that using smartphones to gather disease information could be cheaper than traditional paper surveys, minus the initial setup costs.

The study, conducted by researchers from the Kenya Ministry of Health and the Kenya Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, also found that smartphone surveys were more accurate than traditional methods and made the data available more quickly for analysis.

The study made use of a proprietary software program called the Field Adapted Survey Toolkit. Researchers compiled data at four influenza surveillance sites in Kenya by administering a brief questionnaire using a mix of paper methods and HTC smartphones.

"Collecting data using smartphones has improved the quality of our data and given us a faster turnaround time to work with it," Dr. Henry Njuguna from CDC Kenya said. "It also helped us save on the use of paper and other limited resources."

More than 1,000 paper-based and smartphone questionnaires were compared from the four reporting sites. Only three percent of the smartphone questionnaires remained incomplete, compared to five percent of the paper-based surveys. Four percent of questions labeled mandatory were left incomplete on the paper-based surveys, but none were incomplete on the smartphone surveys.

Smartphone data was uploaded into a database system within eight hours of its collection. It takes nearly a month to process paper-based collections.

Although the fixed costs of creating a smartphone system are higher, the cost of running one is significantly lower. For two years, a smartphone system is estimated to cost $45,500. For the same period, a paper system would cost approximately $61,800.