Digital health in oncology in Africa: A scoping review and cross-sectional survey



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Digital health in oncology in Africa: A scoping review and cross-sectional survey

JournalInternational Journal of Medical Informatics
Article typeJournal research article – Clinical research
Publication date – Dec – 2021
Authors – Johnblack K. Kabukye, Edward Kakungulu, Nicolette de Keizer, Ronald Cornet
KeywordsAfrica, digital health, oncology, scoping review
Open access – Yes
SpecialityDigital health, Surgical oncology
World region Central Africa, Eastern Africa, Northern Africa, Southern Africa, Western Africa

Language – English
Submitted to the One Surgery Index on December 18, 2021 at 6:49 am

Low- and middle-income countries, especially in Africa, face a growing cancer burden. Adoption of digital health solutions has the potential to improve cancer care delivery and research in these countries. However, the extent of implementation and the impact of digital health interventions across the cancer continuum in Africa have not been studied.

To describe the current landscape of digital health interventions in oncology in Africa.

We conducted a scoping literature review and supplemented this with a survey. Following the PRISMA for Scoping Reviews guidelines, we searched literature in PubMed and Embase for keywords and synonyms for cancer, digital health, and African countries, and abstracted data using a structured form. For the survey, participants were delegates of the 2019 conference of the African Organization for Research and Training in Cancer.

The literature review identified 57 articles describing 40 digital health interventions or solutions from 17 African countries, while the survey included 111 respondents from 18 African countries, and these reported 25 different digital health systems. Six articles (10.5%) reported randomized controlled trials. The other 51 articles (89.5%) were descriptive or quasi-experimental studies. The interventions mostly targeted cancer prevention (28 articles, 49.1%) or diagnosis and treatment (23 articles, 40.4%). Four articles (7.0%) targeted survivorship and end of life, and the rest were cross-cutting. Cervical cancer was the most targeted cancer (25 articles, 43.9%). Regarding WHO classification of digital interventions, most were for providers (35 articles, 61.4%) or clients (13, 22.8%), while the others were for data services or cut across these categories. The interventions were mostly isolated pilots using basic technologies such as SMS and telephone calls for notifying patients of their appointments or results, or for cancer awareness; image capture apps for cervical cancer screening, and tele-conferencing for tele-pathology and mentorship.

Generally positive results were reported, but evaluation focused on structure and process measures such as ease of use, infrastructure requirements, and acceptability of intervention; or general benefits e.g. supporting training and mentorship of providers, communication among providers and clients, and improving data collection and management. No studies evaluated individualized clinical outcomes, and there were no interventions in literature for health system managers although the systems identified in the survey had such functionality, e.g. inventory management. The survey also indicated that none of the digital health systems had all the functionalities for a comprehensive EHR, and major barriers for digital health were initial and ongoing costs, resistance from clinical staff, and lack of fit between the EHR and the clinical workflows.

Digital health interventions in oncology in Africa are at early maturity stages but promising. Barriers such as funding, fit between digital health tools and clinical workflows, and inertia towards technology, shall need to be addressed to allow for advancement of digital health solutions to support all parts of the cancer continuum. Future research should investigate the impact of digital health solutions on long-term cancer outcomes such as cancer mortality, morbidity and quality of life

OSI Number – 21398

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