Tuesday, July 16, 2019
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SMS Alerts Inspire PLHIV to go for Medications

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imagesEvery clinic day, Yohanna Christy interacts with at least 100 people living with HIV as a nurse in the Anti-retroviral Treatment (ART) Clinic in Federal Medical Center Keffi. One of the concerns that she and other staff have had is that of patients missing their appointment dates for due consultation and collection of their drugs.

Christy has been involved in visits to the homes of several people living with HIV and have also made phone calls to many of them to encourage them to come to the facility. “Recently, there was a woman we met who stopped coming to the clinic for close to five months because her husband sent her packing from the house. She felt that there was no reason to live.”

Christy and many other health workers are relieved with the introduction of a pilot “SMS Reminder for Appointment” service that Institute of Human Virology Nigeria (IHVN) with funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is piloting in 13 health care facilities that it supports. The service ensures that clients receive a text message reminding them of their appointment date two days before the clinic visit and a day to the clinic visit.

According to IHVN Systems Analyst/Developer, Mr. Joseph Aghatise, the reminder system being piloted since February 2016, connects to the electronic client database and extracts the client’s phone number and their next scheduled appointment date and uses the information to send automatic reminder messages. “To ensure confidentiality, the messages are coded. During routine health talks, the Home-based Care or Care & Support team would announce the SMS reminder code to the patients and encourage them to read their text messages so as to know when the reminder SMS was sent to them,” he says

Mr. Aghatise says that the improvement in service offered to clients is remarkable. “We observed downward movement in the number of missed appointments. “In University of Abuja Teaching Hospital (UATH), missed appointment rate reduced from 54% in March 2016 to 15% in July 2016. Within the first 120 days of implementation, in Federal Medical Center Katsina, the rate of missed appointment dropped from 23.7% in the month of April 2016 to 14.8%. In Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital, the SMS reminder reduced missed appointment from 72 missed appointment cases in June 2016 to 16 missed appointment cases in September 2016.”

Though Christy was concerned, she was happy when her client showed up in the clinic five months after her appointment date. “It is the message that she saw that encouraged her to come back to the clinic. We were happy,” she says. Judith Solomon, a volunteer at UATH says that with the SMS reminders, the challenge of getting transport fare to the facility which is a big issue is also addressed, “The alerts remind you that your appointment is approaching. Even if you don’t have transport, before the appointment day, you can find a way to get money and come to the hospital.”

According to Mr. Aloysius Nwachukwu, who accesses his drugs in UATH Abuja, “when my appointment date is approaching, definitely, I will see the text message. The message alerts us so we know that if we don’t have money, we can start looking for it so that we don’t miss the appointment day.” For Janet Kuje, who schools in Zaria but accesses treatment from FMC Keffi, the alerts are a reminder, “Sometimes, I forget about my appointment dates but with this SMS alerts, I now remember.”

IHVN Associate Director Care and Support Mrs. Asabe Gomwalk says that “we have identified that for many of our clients, they miss appointments because they forgot, traveled or were busy. We decided to use the SMS Reminder strategy to remind patients about their appointment dates and to show them that someone cares.”

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