The ability to collect data in real time using cell phone technology has been a tremendous boon to market research firms, as they can now discover the motivators for purchasing as the consumer makes a purchase. However, because the cell phone can be used in remote locales, mobile data collection is being used in applications related to health and welfare. This expands the possibilities for mobile data collection applications into many other areas.
The use of cell phone applications to collect data has expanded the abilities of market researchers to follow the purchasing process from ideation through completion. However, because mobile data collection applications are usable in areas that may not be well served in terms of internet access or in-person visits, many non-government organizations (NGOs) are using mobile data collection to accumulate statistics on health, agriculture and social welfare in remote locations. The data can then be used to request funding, develop programs and to allocate personnel to provide remedial action where it is needed in a timely and efficient manner.
For example, the United Nations lists several organizations that are using mobile data applications in Uganda, Sri Lanka, Tanzania and Ghana. One of these applications is being used by a handful of medical professionals on site to track the outbreak and progress of specific communicable diseases. The data is returned in real time to a US-based agency, which can then develop an intervention program and make the necessary plans to ship pharmaceuticals and personnel to the area that is affected. The ability to utilize data collected remotely in real time makes more efficient and effective use of human and financial resources.
Why is this relevant to developed countries? Consider for a moment the potential uses of mobile data collection by social welfare personnel. It is not unusual for social workers in urban areas to have case loads that are very large. The cases may involve everything from children who are living in precarious and dangerous situations to individuals who are disabled by mental health issues. Social workers constantly have to triage their in-person visits, placing those involving immediate and life-threatening situations above those that are more benign, but may also be life-threatening if neglected. If social welfare agencies were able to do regular remote check-ins with their lower-priority clients, it would reduce the pressure that builds when in-person visits are pushed back or neglected. For example, a social worker may hold an individual with hoarding disorder accountable in a non-threatening manner by administering a weekly survey by cell phone that includes uploading photos of the person’s living quarters. If the individual refuses to comply, then that would be a red flag to the social worker that it’s time for an in-person visit. Similarly, medical social workers could reach out to clients on a daily basis using a cell phone-based application and receive immediate feedback regarding an individual’s level of functioning. An application such as a “pain scale,” (“On a scale of 1 to 10, how much pain are you feeling?”) for example, could be part of the daily check-in on individuals debilitated by depression. Remote data collection may even provide more clarity than would an in-person visit. For example, the individual with severe social anxiety may be reluctant to provide honest feedback during in-person interviews, but would feel less anxious in answering survey questions on his or her cell phone.
Remote data collection does not replace in-person visits, but it can enhance the face-to-face interview process by providing immediate and continual follow-up feedback in a manner that maximizes the ability of personnel to respond effectively. Mobile data collection applications and the cell phone may well be the most economical tools available to enhance the quality of life