Perceptions of the Feasibility and Practicalities of Text Messaging-Based Infectious Disease Surveillance: A Questionnaire Survey

Document Type


Publication Date


Publication Title

JMIR mHealth and uHealth


Geisel School of Medicine

Additional Department

Thayer School of Engineering


Background: In Vietnam, infectious disease surveillance data are collected via a paper-based system through four government tiers leading to a large delay. Meanwhile, mobile phones are abundant and very popular in the country, and known to be a useful tool in health care worldwide. Therefore, there is a great potential for the development of a timely disease surveillance system through the use of mobile phone short message service ( SMS) text messages. Objective: This study aims to explore insights about the feasibility and practicalities of the utilization of SMS text messaging-based interventions in disease-reporting systems by identifying potential challenges and barriers in the text messaging process and looking at lessons learned. Methods: An SMS text messaging-based disease tracking system was set up in Vietnam with patient reports texted by clinic staff. Two 6-month trials utilizing this disease tracking system were designed and implemented in two northern provinces of Vietnam to report two infectious diseases: diarrhea and influenza-like illness. A structured self-reported questionnaire was developed to measure the feasibility and practicalities of the system from the participants. On the completion of the second trial in 2013, participating health staff from 40 commune health centers in the two pilot provinces were asked to complete the survey ( N= 80). Results: Most participants were female ( 61%, 49/ 80) and nearly half ( 44%, 35/80) were heads of a commune health center. Approximately two-thirds ( 63%, 50/80) of participants retained the basic structure of the SMS text message report and there was a strong influence ( OR 28.2, 95% CI 5.3-151.2) of those people on the time they spent texting the information. The majority ( 88%, 70/80) felt the information conveyed in the SMS text message report was not difficult to understand. Most ( 86%, 69/80) believed that they could report all 28 infectious diseases asked for by the Ministry of Health by using SMS text messaging. Conclusions: From a health center staff perspective, a disease-reporting system utilizing text messaging technology is easy to use and has great potential to be implemented and expanded nationwide. The survey showed positive perceptions and feedback from the participants and contributed to a promising practical solution to improve the surveillance system of infectious disease in Vietnam.