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Open Access Highly Accessed Technical advance

The use of mobile phones as a data collection tool: A report from a household survey in South Africa

Mark Tomlinson1*, Wesley Solomon2, Yages Singh3, Tanya Doherty45, Mickey Chopra6, Petrida Ijumba7, Alexander C Tsai8 and Debra Jackson5

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Psychology, Stellenbosch University, Private Bag X1, Matieland, 7602, South Africa and Health Systems Research Unit, Medical Research Council, Francie van Zyl Drive, Parrow, Cape Town, 7535, South Africa

2 Health Systems Research Unit, Medical Research Council, Francie van Zyl Drive, Parrow, Cape Town, 7535, South Africa

3 Health Systems Research Unit, Medical Research Council, 491 Ridge Road, Durban, 4091, South Africa

4 Health Systems Research Unit, Medical Research Council, Francie van Zyl Drive, Parrow, Cape Town, 7535, South Africa

5 School of Public Health, University of the Western Cape, Modderdam Road, Bellville, 7535, South Africa

6 Chief, Health, UNICEF, United Nations Plaza, New York, NY 10017 USA

7 Health Systems Research Unit, Medical Research Council, 491 Ridge Road, Durban, 4091, South Africa

8 Langley Porter Psychiatric Institute, University of California at San Francisco, USA

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BMC Medical Informatics and Decision Making 2009, 9:51  doi:10.1186/1472-6947-9-51

Published: 23 December 2009

Abstract

Background

To investigate the feasibility, the ease of implementation, and the extent to which community health workers with little experience of data collection could be trained and successfully supervised to collect data using mobile phones in a large baseline survey

Methods

A web-based system was developed to allow electronic surveys or questionnaires to be designed on a word processor, sent to, and conducted on standard entry level mobile phones.

Results

The web-based interface permitted comprehensive daily real-time supervision of CHW performance, with no data loss. The system permitted the early detection of data fabrication in combination with real-time quality control and data collector supervision.

Conclusions

The benefits of mobile technology, combined with the improvement that mobile phones offer over PDA's in terms of data loss and uploading difficulties, make mobile phones a feasible method of data collection that needs to be further explored.