Patient-provider communication is a major challenge in resource-limited settings with large catchment areas. Though mobile phone usership increased 20-fold in Africa over the past decade, little is known about acceptability of, perceptions about disclosure and confidentiality, and preferences for cell phone communication of health information in the region.
We performed structured interviews of fifty patients at the Immune Suppression Syndrome clinic in Mbarara, Uganda to assess four domains of health-related communication: a) cell phone use practices and literacy, b) preferences for laboratory results communication, c) privacy and confidentiality, and d) acceptability of and preferences for text messaging to notify patients of abnormal test results.
Participants had a median of 38years, were 56% female, and were residents of a large catchment area throughout southwestern Uganda. All participants expressed interest in a service to receive information about laboratory results by cell phone text message, stating benefits of increased awareness of their health and decreased transportation costs. Ninety percent reported that they would not be concerned for unintended disclosure. A minority additionally expressed concerns about difficulty interpreting messages, discouragement upon learning bad news, and technical issues. Though all respondents expressed interest in password protection of messages, there was also a strong desire for direct messages to limit misinterpretation of information.
Cell phone text messaging for communication of abnormal laboratory results is highly acceptable in this cohort of HIV-infected patients in rural Uganda. The feasibility of text messaging, including an optimal balance between privacy and comprehension, should be further studied.
Keywords: SMS, Cellular phones, HIV, Sub-Saharan Africa, Confidentiality, Privacy