Bulawayo’s E-Health Platform Causes Headaches for Patients

Technological innovations are generally applauded for making life easier and reducing the time spent on tasks, for e-Health technology recently introduced by the city of Bulawayo — the opposite is true. Under normal circumstances, Patience Moyo (not her real name) would not be detained for more than two hours at a council clinic located in Bulawayo’s central business district. Moyo has been collecting her Anti-Retroviral (ARV’s) supplies from the same clinic after every three months for the past 5 years since she was diagnosed with HIV.

Even on days when she has to first undergo viral load testing (VLT) every 6 months, when she visits the clinic for ARV re-supplies, the service has been seamless without any delays. Not until recently, she says. On Monday, Moyo spent almost eight hours at the clinic before being attended to as a result of delays linked to an e-patient management system recently introduced by the Bulawayo City Council (BCC).

“I arrived around 6.30 a.m but it’s already after lunch. I am tired and hungry and my worry is that the clinic will close for the day before they serve us,” she tells The Citizen Bulletin reporter.

“In other days before this e-registration, it would be a walk-in walk-out experience not what we are experiencing now,” Patience Moyo, an HIV patient.

When COVID-19 hit the country, the local authority minimised the time spent by patients at its facilities to curb the spread of the global pandemic. The Council then rolled out e-Health covering a wide range of healthcare services delivered through Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) such as electronic health records (EHRs). According to authorities, this is in line with the city’s vision – A Leading, Smart and Transformative City by 2024. The EHR programme was initially planned to be implemented around March but the process was suspended till October due to COVID-19 response restrictions. BCC received the Network equipment for the Electronic Health Records (EHR) program from America Centre for Disease Control (CDC) through ICAP (formerly the International Centre for AIDS Care and Treatment Programs) in February 2020.

Installation and cabling of the health facilities were done in the same month with configuration of Wireless Access Points (WAPs) beginning Feb. 20, 2020. On Monday Oct. 26, The Citizen Bulletin observed pregnant, young and aged patients seeking medical attention from one of the city’s clinics. Calls by nursing staff for patients in queues to observe social distancing were seemingly finding no takers as frustrations boiled over. Mothers visiting the baby clinic were having a torrid time trying to calm their crying babies as the searing hot weather beat them down. They say they have been detained at the health centre for several hours without being attended to.

“I appreciate that we are in the 21st century where e-technologies cannot be ignored. However, e-technologies must quicken processes and not vice-versa as we are witnessing,” Nkosi Ngwenya said as she left the institution in frustration without getting any service.

Ngwenya is not the only one who has quit in frustration. BCC deputy mayor Mlandu Ncube says he has in the past, also failed to access health care services due to network challenges affecting the e-patient management platform.

“I am also a victim of that slow process as I had to quit before accessing any services,” Ncube says.

“We have been having challenges with the system and network connectivity. We are pleading with residents to be patient with us as we try to speedily rectify the challenges. We understand the frustrations of the people.”

According to the World Health Organisation, e-health tools are designed to improve health surveillance, health-system management, health education and clinical decision-making, and to support behavioural changes related to public-health priorities and disease management.

“This is what we are trying to do as Council. However, we rest assure the public that this will soon be history as the Council is concerned about the delays with e-patient management,” Ncube adds.

Source: The Citizen Bulletin