Application of Learning Technologies to Support Community-Based Health Care Workers and Build Capacity in Chronic Disease Prevention in Thailand
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Thailand has faced under-nutrition and yet, paradoxically, the prevalence of diseases of over-nutrition, such as obesity and diabetes, has escalated. Since access to diabetes prevention programs is limited in Thailand, especially in rural areas, it becomes critical to develop a health information delivery system that is relevant, cost-effective and sustainable. Therefore, the main objective of this program is to build capacity for chronic disease prevention in Thailand through application of learning technologies in the education, support and accreditation of community health care workers (CHCWs). This program stems from established partnerships among: The University of Waterloo (UW), Department of Health Studies and Gerontology; Institute of Nutrition, Mahidol University (INMU); The Office of Disease Prevention and Control 10 Chiang Mai province; Ministry of Public Health (MOPH), Thailand and UW, Centre for Teaching Excellence (CTE) . The development of the community-based diabetes prevention education program in Chiang Mai, Thailand was informed by in-depth interviews with health care professionals (n=12) and interviews (n=8) and focus groups (n = 4 groups, 23 participants) with community volunteers, screened as at-risk for diabetes. Coded transcripts from audio-taped interviews or focus groups underwent qualitative analysis by hand and using NVivo software. Health care professionals identified opportunities to integrate health promotion/ disease prevention into CHCWs’ duties. However, they also identified potential barriers to program success as motivation for regular participation, and lack of health policy support for program sustainability. Health care professionals supported an education program for CHCWs and recommended small-group workshops, hands-on learning activities, case studies and video presentations that bring knowledge to practice within their cultural context; CHCWs should receive a credit for continuing study. Community volunteers lacked knowledge of nutrition, diabetes risk factors and resources to access health information. They desired two-way communication with CHCWs. A tailored diabetes prevention education program was designed based on this formative research. Learning modules were delivered over eight group classes (n=5/class) and eight self-directed E-learning sessions (www.FitThai.org). The program incorporated problem-based learning, discussion, reflection, community-based application, self-evaluation and on-line support. The frequency that students accessed on-line materials, including video-taped lectures, readings, monthly newsletters, and community resources, was documented. Participant satisfaction was assessed through three questionnaires. Knowledge was assessed through pre-post testing based on an exam that was pilot tested with 32 CHCWs from a district outside of the 5 districts in semi-urban Chiang Mai province from which the 69 participating CHCWs (35 intervention, 34 control) were randomly selected. The program was implemented over four months. Three quarters of participants attended all eight classes and no participant attended fewer than six. Online support and materials were accessed 3 – 38 times (median 13). Participants reported that program information and activities were fun, useful, culturally relevant, and applicable to diabetes prevention in their specific communities. Participants also appreciated the innovative technology support for their work. Comfort with E-learning varied among participants. Scores on pre-post knowledge test increased from a mean (SD) of 56.5% (6.26) to 75.5% (6.01) (P < .001). The effect of the program on knowledge of CHCWs was compared between intervention and control communities at baseline and the end of the program. Overall, the knowledge at baseline of both groups was not significantly different (56.5% (6.26) intervention versus 54.9% (6.98) control) and all CHCWs scored lower than 70%. The lowest scores were found in the “understanding of nutritional recommendations” section (mean score = 28% in intervention and 30% in control CHCWs). After 4 months, CHCWs in the intervention group demonstrated improvement relative to the control group (75.5% (6.01) versus 57.4% (5.59), respectively, p <.001, n=69). The percent of CHCWs achieving a total score of 70% was 77% (27/35) in intervention and 0% in control groups. The diabetes prevention education program was effective in improving CHCWs’ health knowledge relevant diabetes prevention. The innovative learning model has potential to expand chronic disease prevention training of CHCWs to other parts of Thailand. Ultimately, prevention of chronic diseases and associated risk factors should be enhanced.