Samantha Dolan, a PhD student in Implementation Science, has received the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Grand Challenges Explorations award to use technology to strengthen health systems aimed at improving data use by healthcare workers in order to increase vaccination uptake amongst children in Kenya.

Samantha Dolan began her global health career focusing on infectious disease epidemiology and malariology. But after several years of experience working in the field of global health, her interests shifted.

“A lot of digital health interventions have been built, but not all are used effectively,” says Dolan, “I became interested in the science of evaluating the real impact of health programs and how interventions can be best designed to fit their implementation setting.” 

Dolan, who currently works as a monitoring and evaluation advisor with I-TECH in the UW Department of Global Health, now has the opportunity to turn her interests into impacts. Together with Peter Rabinowitz, an associate professor at University of Washington, and Ian Njeru of I-TECH in Kenya, Dolan has received a Grand Challenges Explorations award from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The $100,000 grant will fund a project over the next 18 months to improve digital data collection and monitoring of childhood immunizations at Kenyan health facilities by optimizing workflows.

The project will study the use of an electronic immunization registry recently deployed by I-TECH, which was built using open-source software and a user-centered design approach, to test different workflows in immunization clinics. Using electronic tools to track immunizations has the potential to improve data accuracy, identify unvaccinated children, and free up time for healthcare workers to provide consultations and follow-up with defaulters. Dolan will use an iterative approach with Lean methods to maximize value while reducing waste, as well as time-motion study techniques to evaluate current workflows and identify efficiency bottlenecks.

The workflows will be redesigned and tested in Kenyan health facilities of different sizes and types, and the research team will also compare electronic registries with the current paper-based registries. Given that some facilities do not have consistent electricity, Dolan will evaluate which parts of the data entry workflow will need to change to establish an efficient electronic record system.

“We believe that a better system will allow better access to records for healthcare workers, which will allow for better identification of and outreach to children who miss scheduled vaccinations. We need to make sure we’re improving on the existing systems and ask how to make a new electronic system work in the current environment so we observe the potential benefits,” says Dolan.

As an undergraduate, Dolan was a public health major and after graduation, she worked on assessments and evaluations as a fellow at the CDC, where her work on vaccination programs piqued her interest in using technology to improve health outcomes.