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Tablets vs. Paper: How the Philippines Halved the Cost of Healthcare Delivery, Future Gov

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ACCESS Health International, a nonprofit think tank, has trained the government’s community health teams to collect health information on families using tablets, replacing paper forms which they had been using since 2011. The health workers can now use a mobile and web app to summarize the data collected and automatically generate reports. The City Health Office can also directly access the reports online and share them with other government agencies.

An economic evaluation of using the app versus paper forms by the University of the Philippines Econ Foundation found that “using the [app] is nearly half as expensive as using the paper based approach over a five year period,” including less time spent on collecting, processing, and reporting data.

The Philippines’ healthcare system is devolved, so the budget comes from local government units, explained Rontal. This means that reducing costs at the local government level is important to make the country’s healthcare system more efficient.

The community health worker profiles the household, develops health plans for each member of the family and shares healthcare information and messages. He or she also schedules check ups and then follows up to make sure the family is adhering to the plan. The worker visits each household every month. Previously, they had to carry up to nine kinds of forms to every household they visited in the day, she said.

The community health centre consolidated the health reports every month and shared the information with the City Health Office, which then submitted it to national government departments like the Department of Health and the Department of Social Welfare and Development, Rontal said.

Now, they just need to carry a tablet with them on which they can update the household’s profile, deliver video messages, and track family members’ progress with health plans. Not all survey areas have an internet connection, so every community health center has been equipped with a connection. Once the workers return to the centre, they sync the data on the tablet to a server that automatically generates the required reports. “The City Health Office can [directly] access the reports through the web application,” she added.

“So far we have trained 100 health workers [to use the app],” said Rontal of the total one hundred thousand health workers deployed by the government.

With the mobile app, they can deliver standardised healthcare messages to families using videos, which makes the message more visual and easier for families to understand, she noted. The lower cost of implementing this project means that it can be scaled up more easily and can allow the local government to better allocate their funds and human resources.

The project was first introduced in Caloocan City. Although it has shown successful results, the city government is having difficulty sustaining the project due to funding concerns. Since the country’s health system is devolved, such projects depend on the priorities and budgets of local government units.

The ultimate objective of the project is for the national government’s “Department of Health to adopt this innovation and endorse it to the local government units,” Rontal concluded.

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