New E-Health programme promises to transform healthcare in the City

​The City of Johannesburg’s Department of Health and Social Development is moving swiftly towards providing sustainable service delivery and becoming a smart city with the rolling out of the new e-Health programme.

It is a major technological advancement that allows the City to be part of new developments and to keep up with changes in the time of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. This will accelerate the quality of primary care services delivered by the City.

According to Bheki Sibeko, the Director of Integrated Policy Planning & Research Unit, the new e-Health programme’s benefits will be endless for both residents and City employees working within the health space. He says not only will it remove the need for paper records, but it will conveniently allow residents to visit clinics within or even outside their communal areas. Healthcare staff in any given facility will have access to a patient’s health record.

 “For the longest time patients have known their brown files at clinics and some patients have even experienced a loss of their records which results in treatment regime having to restart and doctors not having accurate information of previous diagnoses, illness and treatments that have been administered.

The e-Health programme eliminates all these disadvantages and challenges,” says Sibeko. Dr Keshni Arthur: Deputy Director of Health Information Systems adds that the e-Health programme provides continuity of care and will have a positive improvement in the management of patients.

 “E-health will allow chronic patients to conveniently book appointments from their cell phones. Nurses will know who the chronic patients are, and this ultimately increases service rate and residents’ satisfaction by avoiding long queues at our clinics,” she says. 

Sibeko says the e-Health system is currently in the development phase also known as phase two. This phase entails the contractors tailoring an open-source system to meet the needs and requirements of the health facilities around the City of Johannesburg.

The contractor will align the system to make it a better fit for the environment in which it should operate. Within this phase, the City is also considering the Popi Act, which sets out the minimum standards regarding accessing and “processing” of any personal information belonging to another.

He notes that the new system will attain consent from all patients. “Another notable benefit is once the system is up and running it will be used at all the 79 city clinics and eventually be operational at the mobile clinics as well,” he says. 

Dr Arthur says many more than just the residents will benefit from the launch of the programme. “We need young people to drive the use of technology. We employed 23 IT systems technical assistants who are trained as trainers and an in-house resource for ongoing training. They have been trained on health systems such as the Health Patient Record System (HPRS). They are now training our healthcare staff in various IT- and health-related systems,” she says.

Dr Arthur says that the nurses will be upskilled as well as other health workers and are currently being furnished with laptops that will be used for ease of access to records and appointments. The Technical Assistants will help implement and monitor the e-Health programme at the clinics once it has been launched,” she says. 

Sibeko notes that the City had previously implemented a similar system in 2016, which also ran a very successful course. The system was piloted and provided on a partnership basis and afforded patients the opportunity to access their medical records at 66, of the City’s 81 primary healthcare centres.

“We are extremely proud that we now own a system that has been developed to work for the needs of each of our clinics. This also eliminates the system running its course or having to change contractors or stopping it for various other reasons. This is the beginning of great new developments within the Department of Health,” says Sibeko. 

Dr Arthur says that they are also aware that there has to be a period of trial and error, where the software will be piloted. It’s also important for everyone to understand that the e-Health system will not solve the problems of staff shortage but will indeed assist in minimising waiting times and ease access to reliable and valid medical records, as well as the collection of accurate health data. This will further assist in efficient planning and resource allocation.

“Approximately, 20% or so of patients visiting the clinic for acute health ailments will be managed and in those instances, appointments won’t be necessary. But all the other patients can find comfort in knowing that the nurses or doctors are expecting them because their appointments have been booked and loaded,” says Dr Arthur.

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