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The Open Medicine Project South Africa (TOMPSA) is a collaboration of healthcare workers, researchers, mobile technology designers and developers, who are tackling health system problems - especially in the developing world - by creating smartphone applications.

Launched in South Africa in 2012, it capitalises on both the insights healthcare professionals have into health system challenges, and the relatively high availability of smartphones in many low- and middle-income settings.

While TOMPSA was launched as a non-profit, it has since created a for profit spin out, EM Guidance, as a means of ensuring sustainability.

The idea for TOMPSA came out of the experiences of its South African co-founders Dr Mohammed Dalwai and Dr Yaseen Khan while working in various challenging frontline settings. Dr Dalwai’s experience of an avoidable patient death, caused by incorrect triage, highlighted the need for systems to make easier the work of overstretched and under-resourced front line health practitioners.

Dr Khan noted that implementing necessary changes entirely from within the relatively bureaucratic South African health system was difficult; an external structure was needed to generate and introduce innovations.

A key part of TOMPSA’s model is drawing on the insights of primary health workers through participatory design sessions, alongside technology designers - and with academic input - to map out information needs.

The input of frontline health practitioners helps to militate against what Dalwai identifies as “a perverse incentive among many software companies to make the product as complicated as possible”.

Avoiding this tendency, TOMPSA has been able to produce simple, practical tools which have a wide appeal for practitioners working in challenging settings.

Since launching, the project has produced mobile applications covering HIV, tuberculosis, emergency and primary healthcare. They have been used by more than 300,000 health practitioners in over 198 countries around the world.

A good example of TOMPSA’s work is the PHC Clinical Guide App, launched in 2015. The app makes available standard treatment guidelines and emergency medical lists, which are updated with new information in real time. The app is already being used by around 10,000 clinicians, and has been downloaded in 56 countries besides South Africa.

Image credit: Mohammed Dalwai