SEATTLE —Seattle-based non-profit VillageReach is utilizing new technology solutions to improve healthcare infrastructure. The organization has teamed up with the University of Washington to use its Open Data Kit Scan (ODK), a mobile app, to bring more efficiency to healthcare data collection.
ODK is an Android application that was developed at the University of Washington Department of Computer Science and Engineering. The app scans custom forms with a mobile device’s built-in camera. The user reviews the data, makes any necessary edits and saves it as a digital record.
Once digitized the program provides reports, databases, and connects with the full ODK suite. The resulting aggregate data can be use to improve health services, streamline supply chain systems, and decrease time spent on manual data input.
VillageReach saw a potential for ODK’s healthcare data collection power to reduce the gap between paper and digital systems in low-resource areas and improve healthcare data collection. It began a partnership with the University of Washington to find easy ways to implement the technology. Aided by a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation the project has continued to develop and has been tested in the field in Mozambique and Malawi.
In an interview, VillageReach Technology Associate Rachel Powers shared her experience with the ODK Scan project and more information about its implementation.
Q. How did you get involved with the ODK Scan project? What is your role?
A. I got involved when I joined VillageReach in March 2014. My role is program lead for ODK Scan. I work with UW on identifying and prioritizing software development work on the app and I also lead the in-country field-testing of Scan. They are also the main developers of the larger Open Data Kit set of tools.
Q. You have visited Malawi several times for this project. What is it like to be involved both in the Seattle office and out in the field?
A. My favorite part of working out of the Malawi office was getting to know some of our other VillageReach staff members. Since I’m involved in our technology projects, the other thing that was really important to me was getting a deeper understanding of the information technology realities of the various places we work.This includes not just infrastructure realities (e.g. the internet may go out completely for a few days at a time, or maybe a 3G network is not accessible from one area of the rural district) but also people’s attitudes and relationships towards ICTs (Information and Communication Technologies).
Q. What do you think is the most important benefit of ODK Scan for its target communities?
A. Scan offers a way to keep reliable, familiar, and inexpensive paper systems in place while still enabling automatic digitization of data. Plus, Scan does all its data processing on the tablet WITHOUT being connected to the internet, so it’s really designed for the most low-resource areas.
Basically, arm the frontline health workers with a technology that works, is cheap, and doesn’t require them to do double data entry (paper!!) and streamline the digitization process at the data reporting level by getting all the data needed from a just taking a photo!
Q. After the field trials are completed, what comes next for ODK Scan?
A. Our next field trial is currently gearing up to take place in Pakistan! We will use the results of the Malawi field trial and the Pakistan field trial to help identify the next priority software developments needed for Scan, and we’ll make an updated roadmap for how the technology will continue to be developed.
We hope to bring Scan up to the level of the other ODK tools (i.e. ODK Collect, Survey, Tables, and Aggregate), which are currently used by hundreds of NGOs and institutions. We hope that over the next several years Scan will be mature and proven enough to be implemented at the national ministry of health level, where utilization of ODK Scan can improve the timeliness, accuracy, and reliability of this essential data, positively impacting the health and well-being of entire populations.