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Glob Health Sci Pract. 2017 Jun 27;5(2):261-273. doi: 10.9745/GHSP-D-16-00348. Print 2017 Jun 27.

Benefits and Limitations of Text Messages to Stimulate Higher Learning Among Community Providers: Participants' Views of an mHealth Intervention to Support Continuing Medical Education in Vietnam.

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Center for Global Health and Development, Boston University School of Public Health, Boston, MA, USA.
Department of Global Health, Boston University School of Public Health, Boston, MA, USA.
Center for Global Health and Development, Boston University School of Public Health, Boston, MA, USA.
Pathfinder International in Vietnam, Hanoi, Vietnam.
Center for Population Research Information and Databases (CPRID), Ministry of Health, Hanoi, Vietnam.
Thái Nguyên Provincial Department of Public Health, Thái Nguyên Province, Vietnam.
Pathfinder International, Watertown, MA, USA.



A randomized controlled trial was conducted in 2015 to evaluate a mobile continuing medical education (mCME) intervention that provided daily text messages to community-based physicians' assistants (CBPAs) in Thai Nguyen Province, Vietnam. Although the intervention failed to improve medical knowledge over a 6-month period, a companion qualitative study provided insights on the views and experiences of intervention participants.


We conducted focus group discussions (FGDs) and in-depth interviews (IDIs) among participants randomized to receive text messages containing either simple medical facts or quiz questions. Trained interviewers collected data immediately following the conclusion of the trial in December 2015. Using semi-structured question guides, respondents were queried on their views of the intervention, positive and negative, and perceived impacts of the intervention. During analysis, after learning that the intervention had failed to increase knowledge among participants, we also examined reasons for lack of improvement in medical knowledge. All analyses were performed in NVivo using a thematic approach.


A total of 70 CBPAs engaged in one of 8 FGDs or an IDI. One-half were men; average age among all respondents was 40 years. Most (81%) practiced in rural settings and most (51%) focused on general medicine. The mean length of work experience was 3 years. All respondents made positive comments about the intervention; convenience, relevance, and quick feedback (quiz format) were praised. Downsides encompassed lack of depth of information, weak interaction, technology challenges, and challenging/irrelevant messages. Respondents described perceived impacts encompassing increased motivation, knowledge, collegial discussions, Internet use to search for more information, and clinical skills. Overall, they expressed a desire for the intervention to continue and recommended expansion to other medical professionals. Overreliance on the text messages, lack of effective self-study, and technical/language-based barriers may be potential explanations for intervention failure.


As a form of mCME, daily text messages were well-received by community-level health care providers in Vietnam. This mCME approach appears very promising in low-resource environments or where traditional forms of CME are impractical. Future models might consider enhancements to foster linkages to relevant medical materials, improve interaction with medical experts, and tailor medical content to the daily activities of medical staff.

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