Effectiveness and Process Evaluation of Using Digital Health Technologies in Pharmaceutical Care in Low- and Middle-Income Countries: A Systematic Review of Quantitative and Qualitative Studies

Introduction: Digital health technology (DHT) has the potential to enhance remote health care delivery. However, little is known about the effectiveness of DHTs and factors that contribute to the limited uptake of DHTs in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). Therefore, the objective of this study was to systematically review the effectiveness and evaluation process concerning the use of DHTs in pharmaceutical care in LMICs.

Methods: A literature search on PubMed and Embase was conducted to identify experimental, descriptive, qualitative, and mixed-method studies that focused on the use of DHTs in pharmaceutical care as the main intervention, reported on the effects and/or the process of the DHT intervention, were performed by pharmacists, were conducted in LMICs, and had been published in English. Two reviewers independently conducted the study selection process. A qualitative narrative review of the effectiveness of using DHTs was conducted evaluating the population, intervention, comparators, and outcomes. We summarized the content and identified themes of the evaluation process under two categories—challenges and opportunities.

Results: The search produced 589 studies, of which 16 met the eligibility criteria. The most common type of DHT was mobile health application (mHealth app; n = 8), followed by mobile phone call (n = 6) and mobile video call (n = 2). Eight studies assessed the effectiveness of using DHTs in pharmaceutical care. mHealth app, mobile phone call, mobile video call, text messages, home telemonitoring, and internet-based drug information centers improved some health-related outcomes. Two of these eight studies, however, did not find significant effects of a phone call or an mHealth app on certain health-related outcomes. Of the seven quantitative studies conducting a process evaluation, all showed that patients were satisfied with the use of DHTs in pharmaceutical care provided by pharmacists. Of the two mixed-methods and one qualitative study assessing the process evaluation concerning DHT usage, three distinct themes of challenges (patient-, DHT-, and health care system-related challenges) and opportunities (patient-, DHT-, and pharmacist-related opportunities) were identified.

Conclusions: DHT is a promising approach in pharmaceutical care toward improving health-related outcomes in LMICs, despite the variable intervention effects. The challenges and opportunities identified are important considerations when developing and implementing DHTs in pharmaceutical care in LMICs.

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