KZN Health MEC Nomagugu Simalane-Zulu
KZN Health MEC Nomagugu Simalane-Zulu

KZN health edges closer towards digitising data management systems

By Mercury Reporter Time of article published Dec 13, 2019

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Durban - The KwaZulu-Natal Department of Health is one step closer towards migrating from the archaic and inefficient paper-based filing and data-management system, into the modern, dynamic and infinitely convenient sphere of e-health.

On Thursday, 12 excited IT students from two teams emerged victors from a first-of-its-kind 72-hour "hackathon" hosted at Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospital

A hackathon is an event whereby computer programmers and/or IT students converge for a short period of time to collaborate on a specific project.

On Saturday, KZN Health MEC Nomagugu Simalane-Zulu gave the 50 mostly local students their marching orders: design a wall-to-wall computer system that will revolutionarise the Department’s administrative systems and bring it on par with modern digital technology norms and standards.

Although two of the students are still studying, 10 will receive three-year contracts to work in the Department’s Information Technology unit.  

Speaking at the end of the hackathon, Simelane-Zulu congratulated the students. 

"The new e-health system will reduce patient waiting times, address the issue of missing and damaged patient files while enabling the department to defend itself against medico-legal claims – saving a lot of money in the process.  The new system is expected to be up and running at Prince Mshiyeni and Madadeni hospitals by February next year, before being rolled out to other health facilities across the province. It will ultimately provide seamless linkage between health facilities and allow KZN patients ease of access to medical assistance regardless of where they are in the province," she said. 

Simelane-Zulu said it was common knowledge that the department did not have an existing electronic filing system. 

"Instead of putting out a tender, we decided let’s give young people an opportunity to create something for government. The good thing about this system is that it’s going to be owned by government. The issue of information-sharing, and security of information on the system is going to be well taken care of. The intention is that we must have one system as a province. It is not just an e-filing system, but an e-health system because it will look after the patient from the time they walk in, up until they leave the facility, while ensuring that records are well-secured. This Department in particular is in dire need of such a system, because it is going to assist us in cost-cutting and to improve efficiency. Right now, you have long waiting times of our patients, who must wait for four to eight hours, just to get their files retrieved. Sometimes, those files aren’t even found, and you have to create a new file," she said. 

She said this on its own makes it difficult to sustain a healthcare plan for patients. 

"With this system, it means our patients are not going to wait long in the queue. We don’t even run a risk of losing files because they’re always going to be there. But the most important thing is that this system is going to assist us in the forever-increasing medico-legal bill that we are faced with as a province."

“We know for a fact that by the time you receive a claim, when you go back to the facility to look for a file, you find that either the file is missing or has been stolen, or some vital information from the file has been pulled out, which then makes it difficult for the department to defend itself in court. We then find ourselves with a forever increasing bill. So, we realise that that is untenable and we need to change," she said. 

The two groups of students will now be given access to the department’s currently fragmented electronic filing system so that, with support from the Department’s Information, Communications and Telecommunications unit, they can configure and tailor-make their prototype in a real-life situation, while ensuring that it is ready to start working by early next year.

“Our plan is that by the end of February, we should have two of our busiest hospitals already running on this system. This system will not only be linking hospitals, but also, ultimately, the clinics that they manage,” said the MEC.

MEC Simelane-Zulu’s quest to fill vacant posts and achieve a 60% minimum staff establishment across the province is ongoing.

Among many innovations introduced by the MEC, is a mobile phone application (app) that will enable any patient or their next of kin to lodge compliments or complaints about the standard and/or quality of healthcare rendered, and receive feedback in real time.

The app, which will be managed by trained Departmental customer care staff, will be launched in due course.

The Mercury

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