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Background: Mobile phones and personal digital assistants have been used for data collection in developing world settings for over three decades, and have become increasingly common. However, the use of electronic data capture (EDC) through mobile phones is limited in many areas by inconsistent network connectivity and poor access to electricity, which thwart data transmission and device usage. This is the case in rural Liberia, where many health workers live and work in areas without any access to cellular connectivity or reliable power. Many existing EDC mobile software tools are built for occasionally-disconnected settings, allowing a user to collect data while out of range of a cell tower and transmit data to a central server when he/she regains a network connection. However, few tools exist that can be used indefinitely in fully-disconnected settings, where a user will never have access to the internet or a cell network. This led us to create and implement an EDC software tool that allows for completely offline data transfer and application updating. Results: We designed, pilot-Tested, and scaled an open-source fork of Open Data Kit Collect (an Android application that can be used to create EDC systems) that allows for offline Bluetooth-based bidirectional data transfer, enabling a system in which permanently-offline users can collect data and receive application updates. We implemented this platform among a cohort of 317 community health workers and 28 supervisors in a remote area of rural Liberia with incomplete cellular connectivity and low access to power sources. Conclusions: Running a fully-offline EDC program that completely bypasses the cellular network was found to be feasible; the system is still running, over 4 years after the initial pilot program. The users of this program can theoretically collect data offline for months or years, assuming they receive hardware support when needed. Fully-offline EDC has applications in settings where cellular network coverage is poor, as well as in disaster relief settings in which portions of the communications infrastructure may be temporarily nonfunctional.
Kenny, A., Gordon, N., Downey, J., Eddins, O., Buchholz, K., Menyon, A., & Mansah, W. (2020). Design and implementation of a mobile health electronic data capture platform that functions in fully-disconnected settings: A pilot study in rural Liberia. BMC Medical Informatics and Decision Making, 20(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12911-020-1059-6