Background: Traditionally, health care-seeking behaviour for child illness is assessed through population-based national demographic and health surveys. GPS-based technologies are increasingly used in human behavioural research including tracking human mobility and spatial behaviour. This paper assesses how well a care-seeking event to a health care facility for child illness, as recalled by the mother in a survey setting using questions sourced from Demographic and Health Surveys, concurs with one that is identified by TrackCare, a GPS-based location-aware smartphone application.
Methods: Mothers residing in the Vadu HDSS area in Pune district, India having at least one young child were randomly assigned to receive a GPS-enabled smartphone with a pre-installed TrackCare app configured to record the device location data at one-minute intervals over a 6-month period. Spatio-temporal parameters were derived from the location data and used to detect a care-seeking event to any of the health care facilities in the area. Mothers were asked to recall a child illness and if, where and when care was sought, using a questionnaire during monthly visits over a 6-month period. Concordance between the mother's recall and the TrackCare app to identify a care-seeking event was estimated according to percent positive agreement.
Results: Mean concordance for a care-seeking event between the two methods (mother's recall and TrackCare location data) ranged up to 45%, was significantly higher (P-value <0.001) for care-seeking at a hospital as compared to a clinic and for a health care facility in the private sector compared to that in the public sector. Overall, the proportion of disagreement for a care-seeking event not detected by TrackCare but reported by mother ranged up to 77% and was significantly higher (P-value <0.001) compared to those not reported by mother but detected by TrackCare.
Conclusions: Given the uncertainty and limitations in use of continuous location tracking data in a field setting and the complexity of classifying human activity patterns, additional research is needed before continuous location tracking can serve as a gold standard substitute for other methods to determine health care-seeking behaviour. Future performance may be improved by incorporating other smartphone-based sensors, such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, to obtain more precise location estimates in areas where GPS signal is weakest.