Can smartphone apps improve healthcare services in Cambodia?

SokhaKrom smartphone app is meant to improve healthcare access to everyone in Cambodia, a country that lacks universal health coverage and that is facing many health challenges caused by pollution, changing lifestyles, poor diet and disparity in healthcare access by the poorer population.


As smartphones are getting cheaper and Internet access is spreading worldwide, smartphones apps are at the forefront of innovation and health communication technologies (Mayes, and White, 2017). The potential of technology to improve the health of people worldwide, targeting especially those that have difficulties accessing health services, is enhancing an emerging industry to promote access to reliable and trustable health information.


Cambodian start-up SokhaKrom, sponsored by Codingate, is the first health app in the country that aims to positively contribute to Cambodian health system. It provides information about health professionals, geolocation of the nearest medical centres, patient-doctor communication and interaction, basic information about most common diseases, and healthy food tips, among others. Sokhakrom app was launched last August and in its first month had 3000 users registered. Its main goal is to provide trustable information about medical providers and professionals and increase the number of people accessing that information by reaching both urban and rural areas.



The Southeast Asian region urgently demands improvements in healthcare services, infrastructures and medical products. Cambodia has a growing and ageing population, mostly concentrated in rural areas, that lacks universal health coverage and that can only access health services provided by some NGOs working in the country (ICT 2016). Plus, for those that could afford private healthcare services in Cambodia, the lack of trust in doctors, medicine and especially pharmaceutical market and the lack of access to reliable contrasted information is the key issues SokhaKrom is tackling.

“The problem of Cambodian people lost trust in the local medical services, it is hard to find trustable medical providers and professionals (ODSS, 2017)”


No doubt smartphones innovation industry can contribute to open new opportunities and mobile health apps can improve telemedicine, provide more trustable information and help to narrow the health access gap between rural and urban areas in countries like Cambodia (ICT, 2016).


However, can smartphones and telemedicine improve health systems?


For most health professionals and experts, the answer is technology indeed brings positive contributions to health communication, education and patient-doctor interaction but that is not enough to improve and strengthen health system infrastructures or increase both material and human resources. Technology can contribute, but policies, governmental budgets and a holistic health prevention education programme are crucial.


This unprecedented use of technology and smartphones apps is not only bringing new opportunities but also creating many unique challenges that need to be tackled as well. For instance, the boundaries between commercial and private interests and public healthcare goals, an in-depth analysis of the problems of health systems, educate users to avoid misinterpretation of the information provided through their smartphones that may put them in danger, or private data security and protection principles, just to name a few (Moeun Nhean, 2017; Mayes, and White, 2017).


We should embrace technology cautiously as digital technologies can be a solution for some of the problems and promise cheaper results, but root causes must be addressed too (Morozov, 2013). At the end of the day, technology and digital tools are that just that, new tools that provide new opportunities but to seek real social change and develop, in this case, better healthcare systems in Cambodia, a holistic approach to the problem is vital.


*Credit Featured Image by SokhaKrom App by Codingate Cambodia




International Finance Corporation, World Bank Group & Australian AID (2016): Healthcare Market Assessment, East Asia 2016[Online] 


MAYES, Jonathan; WHITE, Andrew (2017) How smartphone technology is changing healthcare in developing countries, New Castle University [Online]


MOEUN, Nhean (2017, August 22)  Sokhakrom app enhances healthcare accessibility, Phnom Penh Post, [Online] 


MOROZOV, E. (2013), To Save Everything, Click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism, New York, NY: Public Affairs.


Observatoire de la E-Santé dans les pays du Sud (ODESS) (2017): Sokhakrom, participatory healthcare platform: information of trustable healthcare and medical services in Cambodia [Online]



  1. Ruket Negasi

    Hi Irene
    I really like your post, very informative on the new roads technology leads us. I agree with your argument that technology can contribute to development but that is only one piece to the puzzle. Not so long ago Cambodia had a high illiteracy rate primarily among people over the age of 40. Not sure how the literacy rate looks today in Cambodia. Do you think this will prevent the app from becoming useful in its sense?

    1. Irene

      Hi Ruket,
      Thanks so much for your comment! Yes, although Cambodia literacy rate is increasing, there is still a gender, urban-rural and age gap. According to the UN, the literacy rate for people aged 15 and above is almost 80%, it is increasing but it is still lower than other neighbouring countries. So, yes you are right, this app will be useful just for a specific sector of the population. Although Sokharkrom aims to target all people in Cambodia, not everyone can read, owns a smartphone and has access to the Internet. That’s why it is important also to improve other ways to access information, face-to-face communication and education programmes, as you said technology is just one piece of the puzzle.

  2. Hi Irene,

    Thank you for an interesting and informative post. It is fascinating how app innovation can help to open up new opportunities especially within the health industry as technology is increasingly becoming part of peoples everyday life. I just wanted to share with you what seems to be a positive example in the Gaza strip of an app that helps narrow the gap between people in need of blood and those willing to donate.

    However I still agree with your argument that new technology and apps are a piece in the puzzle and continue being what they are, just tools and not an answer.

    All the best!

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