REACH: Social Networking for Doctors in Ghana
One of the significant barriers to quality of health in developing countries is the lack of medical expertise, a problem exacerbated by brain drain and made even more apparent in the lack of specialists. Doctors practicing in developing countries often feel isolated, with little access to medical research or to other colleagues with whom to exchange ideas. In this project, we will draw on prior field study of medical practice in urban and rural Ghana. Drawing on the results of this study and on related literature in computer-supported cooperative work and social incentives, we will follow a user-centred design approach to develop a system to facilitate social networking between doctors, enabling general practitioners to contact remote specialists both within Ghana and abroad for consultation about special cases. The goal is to:
- tap into the extensive network of Ghanaian specialists practicing overseas,
- reduce unnecessary referrals, and
- improve information exchange and records keeping in the referral process.
The design takes into account relevant conditions on the ground, including conditions of intermittent connectivity and the need for delay-tolerant connectivity.
What inspired us to take a social networking approach? Throughout several weeks of fieldwork in Ghana in the winter of 2005 and 2006, it became apparent to us that the Ghanaian medical community is extremely tightly-knit, and that these informal social networks are already being used to fill in the gaps in existing infrastructure. Doctors are frequently calling their friends from school in order to determine patient histories, provide continuing medical education, get second opinions, and transfer patient information between hospitals. Yet this same kind of professional exchange rarely happens with doctors overseas, despite the fact that strong social ties exist. Given the fact that as high as 30% or 40% of doctors educated in Ghana ultimately leave the country to pursue better opportunities overseas, this is a significant resource that remains largely untapped. We propose that the reason for this communication gap is the technical difficulties of long-distance communication, and that an appropriate, user-friendly web-based application can improve the frequency and usefulness of such exchanges.