Challenges of Electronic Data Collection in the Ebola Treatment Unit

I’m currently in Lunsar, Sierra Leone (about 90 minutes drive from Freetown, the capital), at the new Ebola Treatment Unit (ETU) being run by the International Medical Corps (IMC).  I’ve been brought in for 6 weeks primarily as a clinical doctor to treat Ebola patients, and also to look at how Magpi might help in collecting and coordinating the information that is essential to the running of the ETU.  I’m in my initial training right now to use the PPE (personal protective equipment) before being able to enter the “high risk area” where the Ebola patients are being cared for, so I’ve been focused on looking at the data system aspect, thinking of how we could use Magpi for Ebola.


Right now, unfortunately, the data system is very cumbersome, and collection is entirely paper-based. As one example, if a patient is diagnosed at a local hospital, the hospital fills out a paper form with patient details. Then an ambulance is dispatched to transport the patient.  The hospital staff verbally sign out to the nurse in the ambulance, who fills out a similar form with similar information, then on arrival at the ETU he or she verbally signs this information over to the ETU staff, who fill out yet a third similar form with similar information. Collecting data on a mobile device would eliminate so much of this hassle and would allow much better analysis of the information.


The ETU forms are collected daily and provided to the monitoring and evaluation (M&E) team here, who type it into a computer in order to generate the required reports and analysis.


Which is to say that nearly the same information is written down three times on three different forms, and then typed once into a computer.   Partly this is because the paper forms, potentially contaminated with Ebola virus, cannot be physically passed from one area to the next. Clearly there’s an opportunity to use a tool like Magpi to reduce or eliminate this quadruple data entry, and transmit the data wirelessly.  I’ve started  working with IMC staff to prototype electronic versions of this triage/transport/intake form.


Some of the challenges include the difficulty of working with touchscreens with multiple sets of gloves on (but I’ve tested an iPad and Android phone while in full PPE and it worked well), as well as with goggles that very frequently fog up — which could require bigger on-screen text, buttons, etc.


Of course, the intake form is not the only paper form being used which could be converted to an electronic version and deployed on tablets or phones: contact tracing, logistics, lab reporting and many other such forms are in use.  I’ll be updating this blog as I help IMC to look at this, and also as I continue my training and begin to treat patients.


— Joel Selanikio


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