Background: Mobile health (mHealth) interventions are becoming more common in low-income countries. Existing research often overlooks implementation challenges associated with the design and technology requirements of mHealth interventions. Objective: We aimed to characterize the challenges that we encountered in the implementation of a complex mHealth intervention in Uganda. Methods: We customized a commercial mobile survey app to facilitate a two-arm household-randomized, controlled trial of home-based tuberculosis (TB) contact investigation. We incorporated digital fingerprinting for patient identification in both study arms and automated SMS messages in the intervention arm only. A local research team systematically documented challenges to implementation in biweekly site visit reports, project management reports, and minutes from biweekly conference calls. We then classified these challenges using the Consolidated Framework for Implementation Research (CFIR). Results: We identified challenges in three principal CFIR domains: (1) intervention characteristics, (2) inner setting, and (3) characteristics of implementers. The adaptability of the app to the local setting was limited by software and hardware requirements. The complexity and logistics of implementing the intervention further hindered its adaptability. Study staff reported that community health workers (CHWs) were enthusiastic regarding the use of technology to enhance TB contact investigation during training and the initial phase of implementation. After experiencing technological failures, their trust in the technology declined along with their use of it. Finally, complex data structures impeded the development and execution of a data management plan that would allow for articulation of goals and provide timely feedback to study staff, CHWs, and participants. Conclusions: mHealth technologies have the potential to make delivery of public health interventions more direct and efficient, but we found that a lack of adaptability, excessive complexity, loss of trust among end users, and a lack of effective feedback systems can undermine implementation, especially in low-resource settings where digital services have not yet proliferated. Implementers should anticipate and strive to avoid these barriers by investing in and adapting to local human and material resources, prioritizing feedback from end users, and optimizing data management and quality assurance procedures.
- Consolidated framework for implementation science
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Health Informatics