The third and final Western Cape Department of Health (WC DoH) Public Private Health Forum (PPHF) of the year focused on leveraging ICT as an enabler for communications in the healthcare setting. Speakers from both the provincial government and other sectors took to the stage to address local healthcare professionals about how eHealth, and broader technology mediums and platforms, are being used to improve and facilitate public healthcare in the province.

Head of the WC DoH, Dr Beth Engelbrecht, opened the event by reinforcing the importance of communication in ensuring good governance, both with department staff and the public at large. She noted the value of ICT in facilitating the journey of the patient through the public healthcare system, as well as the need for digitising health data to inform good decisions, from individualised patient care to healthcare facility management.

Director: Information Management at the WC DoH, Ian de Vega, explained how the WC DoH IT vision in their Healthcare 2030 Strategy calls for an efficient and affordable IT system to automate and digitise processes to deliver greater public value. Through this, clinicians would have access to relevant patient data to enable better planning, implementation and the monitoring of service delivery.

“The WC DoH has excellent ICT building blocks which are all currently maturing in order to support a new paradigm of using individual level patient data to support clinical care, routine reporting and health intelligence,” said de Vega.

de Vega demonstrated how the WC is leading the country in a number of important healthcare areas. For example, WC is the only province in the country with a single Health Information System (HIS) across all hospitals. It also has a functional unique patient identifier for each patient in place, allowing the patient care record to be viewed irrespective of the treatment centre. The unique patient identifier is a folder number, instead of the patient’s ID number, to ensure private information like their birth date isn’t shared.

“Electronic dispensing covers 83% of all issues; all laboratory data is available electronically; and the province also has complete electronic disease data for HIV and TB, and good progress is being made on other chronic diseases, pregnancies and births,” said de Vega.

de Vega went on to provide examples of specific eHealth projects the WC DoH is involved with, on both a healthcare facility and citizen level. The first example was the electronic Continuity of Care Record (eCCR) that enables data sharing between clinicians covering patient diagnoses, future treatment plans, prescribed medicine, etc. The platform also sends automated notifications of updates to records and messages between senior and junior clinicians. The eCCR is also able to geolocate patients’ residence to inform them of their nearest healthcare facilities.

Catch and Match is another WC DoH project that facilities door-to-door health promotion and support through the use of community health workers (CHWs). The CHWs are equipped with mobile phones that they use to capture data when visiting households in Nyanga, Delft and Khayelitsha. Through the Catch and Match app on the phone they are also able to refer patients to a local health facility for follow up treatment.

“IT has been identified as a top priority with immense potential to improve efficiencies, service delivery and public health generally,” concluded de Vega.

Medical Specialist: Health Impact Assessment (HIA) at the WC DoH, Professor Andrew Boulle, followed de Vega’s presentation with more in-depth information about interoperability to support patient care. He noted that there were a number of opportunities for public-private collaboration by exchanging data between the public sector, private facilities and medical aid schemes for the benefit of the patient, which currently doesn’t happen.

“There’s an opportunity to create a mechanism for data to be requested or accessed with patient consent,” said Prof Boulle.

Prof Boulle added that access to such data would facilitate the analysis of patient movement between public and private healthcare facilities to give a better overall view of immunisations and maternity care, as well as the burden estimation of HIV, TB and diabetes.

While the WC DoH is ahead of the rest of the country in terms of the work they are doing and has achieved, it still has a way to go in ensuring public facilities offer quality care in a timely fashion. In the meantime, other provinces can learn from what the WC DoH has, and is doing and start implementing their own projects that are appropriate to their own unique circumstances.

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