Using smartphones is cheaper and more effective than using paper surveys to monitor diseases in the developing world, according to a new study by Kenyan researchers with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Collecting data using smartphones has improved the quality of our data and given us a faster turnaround time to work with, said Dr. Henry Njuguna, sentinel surveillance coordinator at CDC Kenya. It also helped us save on the use of paper and other limited resources.

Using smartphones led to fewer errors and analyses of data was quicker than paper methods, according to the study, which was presented Monday at the International Conference on Emerging Infectious Diseases in Atlanta.

The study compared 1,019 paper-based questionnaires to 1,019 smartphone questionnaires collected at four sample sites for influenza surveillance in Kenya. Smartphone data were uploaded to the database within eight hours of collection while paper-based data took about 24 days on average to be uploaded.

At each site, surveillance officers identified patients with respiratory illness and administered a brief questionnaire that included demographic and clinical information, the CDC said. Some of the questionnaires were collected using traditional paper methods, and others were collected using HTC Touch Pro2 smartphones using a proprietary software program called the Field Adapted Survey Toolkit (FAST).

The cost of collecting the data via smartphone was lower than paper-based collections, the study found. Over two years, the smartphone cost was $45,546 while the paper cost was $61,830, according to the study.

Paper had a lower fixed cost at the start of the study at $12,990 compared to $16,480 for smartphone collection methods.