Author: Anne Fox

Two-Way Texting Study Offers Innovative Model to Reduce Provider Workload while Preserving Patient Safety

The two-way texting research team.

This piece was first posted on the University of Washington Department of Global Health’s website.

Voluntary medical male circumcision (VMMC) safely reduces the risk of female-to-male HIV transmission by up to 60%. Few men have any post-operative VMMC complication. However, current practice in Zimbabwe and throughout most of sub-Saharan Africa requires VMMC patients to return for multiple, in-person post-operative visits. With low complication rates, and severe healthcare worker shortages, these required visits are a burden for providers and patients — threatening achievement of critical HIV prevention targets. A two-way texting model studied by University of Washington researchers in Zimbabwe offers a new way to address this barrier by reducing provider workload while also safeguarding patient safety.

“These visits can be a barrier to male circumcision uptake and expansion in countries with severe health care worker shortages, as well as negatively impacting patients who needlessly pay for transport, miss work, and wait for unnecessary reviews,” said Principal Investigator Caryl Feldacker, PhD, MPH, at the International Training and Education Center for Health (I-TECH) in the University of Washington Department of Global Health.

The study included 721 VMMC patients in two locations in urban Zimbabwe. In the study, patients communicated directly with a health care worker through interactive text messaging for the critical 13 days post-VMMC, rather than returning for required in-person visits. By giving men the option to heal safely at home, or return to care when desired or if complications arose, the method dramatically reduced in-person visits by 85%. Texting also reduced follow-up costs by about one-third while improving the quality of care.

As compared to routine in-person care, the study yielded twice the number of reported complications. “This increased identification and reporting is a positive result that is likely attributable to improved counseling and men’s engagement in care. Through texting, men were empowered to observe their healing and report potential issues promptly, before they worsened,” said Feldacker.

Currently, most text-based health care efforts blast pre-defined messages to many people simultaneously, removing patients’ ability to communicate back with health care workers. In contrast, two-way texting between providers and patients provides interactive care, and the short time frame heightened participation: in the study, 93% of men responded to texts. Both providers and clients reported confidence in the texting option, feeling safe and highly recommending it for scale.

“With the current system, Zimbabwe could perform millions of unnecessary follow-up visits over the coming five years. The workload burden for health care workers and time lost for patients who are healing without complication is a significant burden for health care workers and clients alike,” said Feldacker. “Potential gains in efficiency and reduced costs through using two-way messaging are large.”

With funding from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and in partnership with the Society for Family Health, the model will soon be tested in urban South Africa. The new, field-based research will further test two-way texting in a different geographical and patient context to better inform the model for adaptation and widespread scale-up.

Feldacker added that “while our findings are grounded in studies on male circumcision, our results are largely attributable to the methods rather than to a specific disease or condition.

“With minimal adaptation,” she continued, “two-way texting could streamline other post-operative care contexts or be re-configured for other similarly acute, episodic conditions where continuity of care within a short period is critical for patients, such as short-course TB treatment, post-operative healing, post-natal care or early childhood illnesses — diarrhea, pneumonia, malaria — laying the foundation for generalizing to other diseases and contexts.”

For more on the study, see the paper pre-published in the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes (JAIDS):

Reducing provider workload while preserving patient safety: a randomized control trial using 2-way texting for post-operative follow-up in Zimbabwe’s voluntary medical male circumcision program

The study was led by Caryl Feldacker, and co-investigators are Vernon Murenje (International Training and Education Center for Health (I-TECH), Harare, Zimbabwe); Mufuta Tshimanga (Zimbabwe Community Health Intervention Project (ZiCHIRE), Harare, Zimbabwe); Scott Barnhart, Isaac Holeman, and Joseph B. Babigumira (Department of Global Health, University of Washington); Sinokuthemba Xaba (Ministry of Health and Child Care, Harare, Zimbabwe); and technology partner Medic Mobile (Nairobi, Kenya).

The Zimbabwe 2wT study was supported by the Fogarty International Center of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number R21TW010583.

I-TECH Helps to Improve Health Regulatory Systems and Training Programs in Cambodia

Pictured are mannequins used at two regional training centers for nurses, midwives, and dental nurses in Kampong Cham and Battambang, Cambodia. I-TECH has supported the procurement of new mannequins to replace those that are old or broken, as well as new teaching tools that will expand the centers’ ability to conduct simulation training. Photo credit: Ann Downer/I-TECH.

The International Training and Education Center for Health (I-TECH) is working on a project led by FHI360, and funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), to empower health care managers and national and provincial stakeholders to improve service quality, safety, and utilization, as well as strengthen overall health systems in Cambodia.

The project’s four objectives include:

  1. Improving policies, guidelines and standards for streamlined quality assurance.
  2. Increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of service delivery.
  3. Strengthening regulatory framework, implementation, and enforcement.
  4. Supporting pre-service public health training.

Given I-TECH’s deep experience in health workforce development, supporting the environments that enable strong health systems, and working with stakeholders at all levels, the team was a natural fit for Objectives 3 and 4.

In service of this critical work, I-TECH is supporting implementation of regulations among private and public health workers, as well as helping to lay the foundation for a sustainable accreditation program for public and private health facilities. I-TECH’s team also works with national stakeholders to develop the capacity of pre-service training institutions to deliver high-quality programs aligned with current evidence and national health priorities.

“We are excited to work with our partners to strengthen these critical components of quality health services in Cambodia,” said Jeff Lane, Principal Investigator and Assistant Professor in the Department of Global Health.

“By leveraging I-TECH’s broad experience in health policy, regulation, and workforce development,” he continued, “we can help Cambodia build an accreditation program to recognize high-performing hospitals, strengthen health professional councils to regulate health practitioners, and build sustainable pre-service training institutions that deliver competency-based education to train Cambodia’s health care workers of tomorrow.”

I-TECH Ukraine Initiates National Discussion on Performance-based Incentives Model in HIV

Participants of the national consultation on PBI model development discuss international best practices. Photo courtesy of I-TECH Ukraine.

In response to the need to quickly revitalize efforts to reach targets in Ukraine, CDC Ukraine has asked International Training and Education Center for Health (I-TECH) to support a performance-based incentive (PBI) model.

On March 28, 2019, I-TECH facilitated a high-level stakeholder workshop centered on PBI evidence and “best practices.” Participants from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Ukraine and the Public Health Center (PHC) of the Ministry of Health of Ukraine, and I-TECH gathered to discuss options for adapting proven methodologies to Ukraine’s HIV services.

PHC launched the model in December 2018 at five pilot sites across the country. In the pilot, monetary incentives were paid to individual doctors at the facilities to double efforts toward initiating new patients on ART.

PHC plans to expand the model to all 12 priority regions in the country. On the heels of COP ’19 discussions in South Africa, CDC Ukraine is looking for additional areas of the HIV cascade to which PBI could be applied to reach the FY2020 targets set by the U.S. Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator (OGAC).

The March meeting and the preceding preparatory meetings provided catalytic opportunities for identifying additional HIV services–including index partner testing, linkage to care, and loss-to-follow-up search–that could potentially benefit from the PBI model; discussing lessons learned from other PBI global initiatives; and utilizing evidence-based practices to design well-conceived and context-driven programs.

Marianne Holec, Senior Program Manager for I-TECH Zimbabwe’s voluntary medical male circumcision program; Efison Dhodho, Results-based Financing Health Specialist from the Programs Coordination Unit of the Ministry of Health of Zimbabwe; and Charbel El Bcheraoui, PhD, Assistant Professor at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) were keynote speakers at the event.

These working meetings resulted in meaningful exchanges between the guest speakers and Ukrainian experts about the successes (e.g., an increase in short-term achievement of targets and the opportunity to identify and target largest areas of need) and challenges (e.g., workplace friction, dissatisfaction with incentives, lack of teamwork, and reduced quality of care) of PBI implementation globally and in Ukraine to date.

Meeting participants appreciated the practical advice given by the guest speakers on designing effective, intentional, and sustainable PBI models for the longer term for HIV services. Experts advised developing a well-designed program that is adapted to local context; starting at a few sites and try different strategies to see what works best; gathering input from the providers as to what will work best; building in health competition between sites; and having a strong M&E framework.

With input from local stakeholders and international experts, I-TECH Ukraine has accepted the challenge of incorporating the key outcomes from the series of PBI meetings to structure the Ukrainian PBI model for HIV services. This narrative will include an outline of additional technical assistance required around its implementation.

THIS PROJECT IS SUPPORTED BY THE HEALTH RESOURCES AND SERVICES ADMINISTRATION (HRSA) OF THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES (HHS) UNDER U91HA06801, THE INTERNATIONAL AIDS EDUCATION AND TRAINING CENTER (IAETC). THE CONTENT OF THIS POST IS THE AUTHOR’S AND SHOULD NOT BE CONSTRUED AS THE OFFICIAL POSITION OR POLICY OF, NOR SHOULD ANY ENDORSEMENTS BE INFERRED BY HRSA, HHS OR THE U.S. GOVERNMENT.

MetaECHO Conference Examines New Frontiers in TeleHealth

Liz Blanton, M&E advisor at I-TECH, presents her poster at MetaECHO.

On March 13-16, Liz Blanton, Monitoring and Evaluation Advisor at the International Training and Education Center for Health (I-TECH), joined more than a thousand clinicians, funders, academic leaders, government officials, and public health experts for the MetaECHO™ conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The University of New Mexico’s Project ECHO® model aims to bring specialized health care and expertise to rural and underserved communities in the U.S. and worldwide.

Blanton presented a poster titled “An Evaluation of Pilot Project ECHO in the Republic of South Sudan and Implications for Implementation in Fragile States.” The evaluation, still in its early stages, will assess the feasibility and acceptability of the model, which is implemented by Columbia University’s ICAP and is the first of its kind in a fragile state.

It will also gauge the impact of the ECHO model – based on telementoring and case presentation from a panel of experts – on providers’ sense of self-efficacy and professional satisfaction, as well as assess outcomes at the facility and systems levels.

“It’s the outcomes piece that really interested people,” said Blanton, pointing out that most of the outcomes studies to date have been fairly small. “It’s something a lot of people at the conference were talking about: how effective is Project ECHO at improving health outcomes?”

In light of this year’s theme of “Infinite Possibilities,” there were also deep discussions about the evolution of the model and how it might be adapted to improve communication between providers and patients, not just among providers. “There were several ‘ECHO Talks’ – TED-style talks – that were really moving,” said Blanton. “Some of the best were by patient advocates,” who highlighted the need for patient-centered care.

A fireside chat with keynote speaker Dr. Don Berwick, President Emeritus and Senior Fellow at the Institute of Healthcare Improvement, underscored the question: how can ECHO teams best deliver what patients need?

Today, Project ECHO operates more than 220 hubs for more than 100 diseases and conditions in 31 countries. The MetaECHO community encompasses all those dedicated to reaching the collective goal of touching 1 billion lives by 2025.

Project ECHO at I-TECH

Several programs at I-TECH utilize the Project ECHO model as a mentoring tool and force multiplier:

  • The first I-TECH-supported ECHO program in the Caribbean was established in January 2018, with the hub site in Jamaica. In that initial year, 41 ECHO sessions were provided, with participation by nearly 300 health care workers. Topics centered on viral load suppression and also included a series on TB prevention, diagnosis, and treatment in people with HIV; tenofovir toxicity; and HIV and lymphoma. During an I-TECH assessment, it was found that the majority of complicated cases presented during ECHO sessions in the Caribbean involved patients with mental health and substance use disorders that negatively impact their ability to adhere to medication and care. Plans are under way to include a psychiatrist/mental health specialist on the ECHO expert panel, and one Wednesday per month will be focused on HIV/mental health co-morbidities. The Jamaica Ministry of Health has also requested that I-TECH include an additional 20 HIV care and treatment sites, as well as a small group of private practitioners, in the current HIV ECHO program community of practice. In service of this request, I-TECH will support the development of a second ECHO program based in Trinidad, which will be launched this month.
  • I-TECH is implementing ECHO to build the capacity of laboratory staff and improve the quality of lab services in Côte d’Ivoire. Sessions include up to 17 laboratories and nearly 30 participants apiece; topics have included management of non-conformities in laboratories. laboratory equipment preventive maintenance, best practices in HIV serology, and external quality assurance.
  • In Malawi, I-TECH supports Project ECHO in partnership with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF), and Lighthouse Trust. The program has more than 40 participants from five different sites, and case presentation topics have ranged from tuberculosis to HIV encephalitis to Kaposi’s sarcoma. Benefits of the program include not only increased engagement of providers to discuss difficult cases, but also an improved referral system between clinics.
  • ECHO is installed and supported by I-TECH at 41 sites in Namibia, and monthly participation reaches up to 400 subject matter experts and staff. Dozens of topics were discussed during the pilot period (November 2015 to September 2016) alone – the most widely attended were on HIV disclosure to children, PMTCT Option B+, and presentation of tuberculosis. In an evaluation of the Namibia pilot, nearly 80% of participants cited that access to the expertise of HIV specialists and inter-disciplinary consultation was a major area of need for them and their clinics. Ninety-three percent of the participants reported that the presentations during the pilot ECHO sessions provided them with useful, up-to-date knowledge.

 

I-TECH and CHARESS Teams Present Lessons Learned at the Global Digital Health Forum

Casey-Iiams Hauser, Senior Informatics Implementation Specialist, presents on laboratory information systems at the Global Digital Health Forum in Washington, D.C.

The Fifth Annual Global Digital Health Forum was held from 10-11 December in Washington, D.C., attracting more than 300 participants to the FHI 360 Conference Center. At the forum, representatives from the new Digital Initiatives Group at I-TECH (DIGI) and its partner in Haiti, CHARESS, shared knowledge and lessons learned from 15 years of experience implementing digital health solutions worldwide.

The theme for this year’s forum was “A Shared Language for Digital Health,” and built on a foundation of the World Health Organization’s Classification of Digital Health Interventions.

“I welcome the messages from donors funding digital health work that they are shepherding a new era through the Digital Investment Principles,” said Joanna Diallo, DIGI Managing Director. “The conference provided DIGI an opportunity to present our contributions to global goods like OpenELIS, OpenMRS, and OpenHIE.”

Diallo moderated a panel titled “Different Labs Need Different Systems: An Exploration of Open Source Laboratory Information Systems Use in Global Health and the Community of Practice that Brings Them Together.” Jan Flowers, DIGI Faculty Co-Lead and Director of Global Health Informatics at the University of Washington Clinical Informatics Research Group, and Casey Iiams-Hauser, Senior Informatics Implementation Specialist with DIGI, were panelists, along with Steven Wanyee of IntelliSOFT, a former member of the I-TECH Kenya team.

The panel highlighted LIS as a critical component of national health information systems (HIS) architecture, exploring a complementary suite of open source LIS that are implemented across low- and middle-income countries, describing the laboratories and use cases each serves.

“The forum is a fantastic opportunity to meet with funders, on-the-ground implementers and technologists to discuss our work and learn about new initiatives and technologies,” said Iiams-Hauser. “We can leverage this knowledge for success both in our existing health information projects and in future partnerships.”

CHARESS HIS Lead Nathaelf Hyppolite participated in a session highlighting the development, implementation, and transition of EMR in developing countries, drawing on I-TECH and CHARESS’s work in Haiti. Participants heard about the benefits of an interoperable EMR: a unified data format, the ability to back up data, and that same data can be used to generate reports via DHIS2 from both the cloud servers and hardware EMR system. Hyppolite also shared the advantages and limitations of transitioning to an OpenMRS and OpenHIE platform, which bring experts together to share knowledge, standards, and best practices, as well as collaborate on technologies.

This focus on community and communication was noted by Diallo and the other participants. “DIGI really appreciated the opportunity to learn more about new standards and technologies, how to best approach digital health governance work, and how a shared language will help us collaborate and work together to ultimately improve health outcomes,” said Diallo.

Renewed Awards Totaling $24 Million Help Usher Zimbabwe Toward HIV Epidemic Control

Dr. Batsi Makunike (L), I-TECH ZImbabwe Country Director, presents Dr. Ann Downer, I-TECH Executive Director and former PI of the Zimbabwe Care and Treatment project, with a farewell gift. The batik was made by using sadza porridge to apply the dye to the fabric.

Last Saturday, 1 December 2018, marked the 30th World AIDS Day, with a focus on urging all people to know their HIV status, as well as on ensuring access to prevention, care, and treatment services for those affected by the disease. Two programs at the International Training and Education Center for Health (I-TECH) are working in concert with local partners to help make those goals a reality in Zimbabwe.

A center in the University of Washington (UW) Department of Global Health, I-TECH has worked in Zimbabwe since 2003, starting with a $150,000 grant for an assessment of the need for HIV training in the country. Since then, work in the country has expanded to two awards totaling more than $24 million for the current year—one of which focuses on HIV testing, care, and treatment and the other on voluntary medical male circumcision (VMMC) for HIV prevention.  Both projects are funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), and operate through consortia comprising I-TECH and local partners.

The consortium for the VMMC award, ZAZIC, will continue to be led by Dr. Scott Barnhart, Professor in the UW Department of Global Health and School of Medicine. However, the consortium for the care and treatment award, the Zimbabwe Partnership to Accelerate AIDS Control (ZimPAAC), has undergone a change in leadership: its new Principal Investigator (PI) is Dr. Stefan Wiktor, Professor in the UW Department of Global Health. Dr. Wiktor was handed the baton by the project’s previous Principal Investigator, Dr. Ann Downer, I-TECH Executive Director and also a Professor in the department, during a ceremony in Harare in October 2018.

“We are all so grateful to Dr. Downer for the past five years; for gently, but firmly leading us through the transition from a training and mentoring grant to a high-impact service delivery grant in five provinces,” said Dr. Batsi Makunike, I-TECH Zimbabwe Country Director. “Looking ahead, we welcome Dr. Wiktor to our team and the opportunity to tap into the wealth of experience that he brings as our new PI.”

Dr. Wiktor expressed hope that, through the continued hard work of the Zimbabwe consortium, the country will achieve its national and global targets. “Zimbabwe is one of the countries in Africa closest to reaching the UNAIDS 95-95-95 targets, and ZimPAAC is a critical partner to the Ministry of Health in that effort,” said Dr. Wiktor. “I am delighted to be working with such an outstanding team of public health professionals.”

Through ZimPAAC, I-TECH provides direct service delivery and site support for care and treatment at 372 public sector health facilities to strengthen health systems and improve the quality of care and treatment services and increase enrollment, initiation and adherence.

The VMMC project has already performed 313,267 VMMCs, as of October 2018, surpassing PEPFAR targets. The new award aims to circumcise 500,000 men over five years, resulting in the prevention of approximately 100,000 new cases of HIV.

“It has been such a privilege to work in Zimbabwe, a country that has a real chance to control the AIDS epidemic—both because of generous funding from PEPFAR and, more importantly, because of the caliber of the Zimbabwean people who live and work here,” said Dr. Downer at the handover ceremony.

“Our Zimbabwe team, consisting of both Harare- and Seattle-based members, is one of the finest I’ve ever worked with,” she continued. “Dr. Wiktor inherits a highly productive consortium that is partnering with ZAZIC and the Ministry of Health to propel Zimbabwe toward a healthier future and an AIDS-free generation.”

I-TECH’s Samantha Dolan Wins Gates Foundation Grand Challenges Explorations Award

Samantha Dolan, a Monitoring and Evaluation Advisor with the Kenya team at the International Training and Education Center for Health (I-TECH), has received the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Grand Challenges Explorations award. Along with I-TECH Kenya’s Ian Njeru and I-TECH PI Peter Rabinowitz, professor in the Department of Global Health, Dolan has been awarded $100,000 to conduct a project over the next 18 months to improve digital data collection and monitoring of childhood immunizations at Kenyan health facilities.

Read more about Dolan and her project on the UW Department of Global Health website–and congratulations from the I-TECH family!

Formulating Guidelines and Operating Procedures

I-TECH India PL is part of various national ART and testing guideline groups of NACO in India, including Journey of ART Programme in India; HTS Guidelines; ART Guidelines for HIV-Infected Adults and Adolescents, May 2013; National Guidelines on Second-line and Alternative First-line ART For Adults and Adolescents, May 2013; Operational Guidelines for ART Centers, July 2012; HIV/TB Guidelines, 2015; and National ART Technical Guidelines, October 2018 (http://www.naco.gov.in/care-support-treatment).

The team also assisted NACO in designing standard operating procedures for implementing newer program initiatives such as Treat All, Pre-ART mop-up, co-located ART and OST (Oral Substitution Therapy) Centres, ART through targeted intervention programs, and multi-month dispensation of ART.

Enhancement of Health Information Systems and Data Quality in India

I-TECH India PL has provided national, state, and facility level technical assistance for improving quality, analysis and presentation of ART program data; developed innovative tools for tracking program progress based on data analysis of selected indicators over a period of time and submitted for national scale-up; and provided technical mentoring to improve quality of data collection and reporting by the ART Centers at 48 sites of India in the last three years.

Building the Capacity of the Health Workforce in India

I-TECH India PL has worked with stakeholders to develop national training curricula for health care staff on delivering HIV care and treatment services. In addition, it has:

  • Planned and implemented training programs for various cadres of clinical and program staff;
  • Participated in medical officer training programs at the national level;
  • Designed and conducted five regional continuing medical education (CME) courses in North, South, West and Northeastern regions on “Invigorating HIV Care” for ART center medical officers;
  • Designed and conducted four workshops in two weeks reaching 164 ART counselors for improving care support and treatment services provided to key population clients accessing ART centre services in Maharashtra;
  • Conducted National Distance Learning Seminars (webinars)—an average of 25 sessions per year on clinical- and program-related topics for the past five years reaching over 50% of ART Centers in India, with average participation of 1000 per session. These sessions are recorded and are available on YouTube channel “I-TECH India.”
  • Conducted Regional Distance Learning Seminars (webinars)—an average of 60 sessions per year through 15 HIV/AIDS Centres of Excellence in more than six languages during the last five years reaching over 50 % of ART Centers in India, with average participation of 50 per session; and
  • Coordinated certificate courses from UW on Leadership and Management in Health, Principles of STD (Sexually Transmitted Diseases) and HIV Research, Introduction to Epidemiology for Global Health, Clinical Management of HIV, and Fundamentals of Implementation Science for over 500 individuals during the past five years.