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Cash transfers may increase the no-show rate for surgical patients in low-resource settings: A randomized trial

By Mark G Shrime, Elizabeth A Harter, Becky Handforth, Christine L Phillips, Hendrika W C Bos, Mirjam Hamer, Dennis Alcorn, Tirzah Bennette, Etienne Faya Millimouno, Jacqueline Nieba, Barry Alpha Oumar, Koko Madeleine Zogbe

Posted 26 Mar 2021
medRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2021.03.20.21254039

Background: Over two-thirds of the world's population cannot access surgery when needed. Interventions to address this gap have primarily focused on surgical training and ministry-level surgical planning. However, patients more commonly cite cost--rather than governance or surgeon availability--as their primary access barrier. We undertook a randomized, controlled trial (RCT) to evaluate the effect on compliance with scheduled surgical appointments of addressing this barrier through a cash transfer. Methods: 453 patients who were deemed surgical candidates by a nursing screening team in Guinea, West Africa, were randomized into three study arms: control, conditional cash transfer, and labeled unconditional cash transfer. Arrival to a scheduled surgical appointment was the primary outcome. The study was performed in conjunction with Mercy Ships. Results: The overall no-show rate was five-fold lower in Guinea than previously published estimates, leading to an underpowered study. In a post-hoc analysis, which included non-randomized patients, patients in the control group and the conditional cash transfer group demonstrated no effect from the cash transfer. Patients in the unconditional cash transfer group were significantly less likely to arrive for their scheduled appointment. Subgroup analysis suggested that actual receipt of the unconditional cash transfer, instead of a lapse in the transfer mechanism, was associated with failure to show. Conclusion: We find that cash transfers are feasible for surgical patients in a low-resource setting, but that unconditional transfers may have negative effects on compliance. Although demand-side barriers are large for surgical patients in low-resource settings, interventions to address them must be designed with care.

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