Evaluation of a Village-Based Digital Health Kiosks Program: A Protocol for a Cluster Randomized Clinical Trial


BackgroundTo address disparities in healthcare quality and access between rural and urban areas in China, reforms emphasize strengthening primary care and digital health utilization. Yet, evidence on digital health approaches in rural areas is lacking.ObjectiveThis study will evaluate the effectiveness of Guangdong Second Provincial General Hospital’s Digital Health Kiosk program, which uses the Dingbei telemedicine platform to connect rural clinicians to physicians in upper-level health facilities and provide access to artificial intelligence-enabled diagnostic support. We hypothesize that our interventions will increase healthcare utilization and patient satisfaction, decrease out-of-pocket costs, and improve health outcomes.MethodsThis cluster randomized control trial will enroll clinics according to a partial factorial design. Clinics will be randomized to either a control arm with clinician medical training, a second arm additionally receiving Dingbei telemedicine training, or a third arm with monetary incentives for patient visits conducted through Dingbei plus all prior interventions. Clinics in the second and third arm will then be orthogonally randomized to a social marketing arm that targets villager awareness of the kiosk program. We will use surveys and Dingbei administrative data to evaluate clinic utilization, revenue, and clinician competency, as well as patient satisfaction and expenses.ResultsWe have received ethical approval from Guangdong Second Provincial General Hospital (IRB approval number: GD2H-KY IRB-AF-SC.07-01.1), Peking University (IRB00001052-21007), and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (323385). Study enrollment began April 2022.ConclusionsThis study has the potential to inform future telemedicine approaches and assess telemedicine as a method to address disparities in healthcare access.Trial registration number: ChiCTR2100053872