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Ugandan Hospital Moves from Dusty Attic File Storage to Digital system


May 27 2013, Uganda [UG], Health

What used to be a system where patient files had to be looked up in papers in a dusty attic, is now in the process of becoming a digital system in several Ugandan hospitals. With continuous computer training, medical training via computers with a teleconferencing tool, a soon-to-be digital pharmacy and electronic patient records, Lubaga hospital in Kampala and other Ugandan hospitals are taking giant steps to improve their quality.

In a wooden attic, cabinets filled with old papers are collecting dust. “These are our old patient records,” says records assistant Rhodah Kiconco. Unlike the rest of Lubaga hospital, a city hospital in Kampala which has quite a nice temperature, the attic is directly under the roof and very hot. After one year, patient files are moved from the hospitals main department to the attic. In practice this could mean that if a patient moves to another city or village and comes back a couple of years later, that it is hard to find his or her records again quickly. For these and many other reasons, the hospital is now in the process of digitalizing with the support of IICD and Cordaid via the Connect4Change Consortium together with Ugandan partner UCMB. Patient records will be stored digitally and easily accessible from most places in the hospital and hospital staff receives continuous computer training and health training via computers.

The old way of storing patient records in Lubaga Hospital, Uganda


Continuous training for all hospital staff

Two floors down, a group of 12 nurses and doctors receive computer training by IT instructor Andrew Ssemwezi who is talking about how to use some of the features of Google online such as a shared calendar. In the afternoon, 12 other nurses, doctors and administrative workers will receive the same course. The 24 people will receive basic computer training for several weeks and then other groups take their place. Once all staff is trained in basic computer training, the staff can start using the available computers for continuous medical training, says UCMB’s project coordinator Jenard Ntacyo.  “The idea is that in the future, all nurses and other staff have to start using computers for e-learning. And if they don’t participate and do continuous training, they could lose their license.”


A digital pharmacy

In the basement of the hospital, sister Rebecca (Lubaga hospital is a catholic hospital where many sisters work) has already been using a computer for three years for keeping track of what hospital stationery is needed. “It’s easy this way,” she says. Soon, the pharmacy will also be working digitally to keep track of supplies. This will save patients much time, says Ntacyo. “What sometimes happened was that after a doctor prescribed a medicine, the patient had to pick it up at the pharmacy only to find that they ran out of that particular medicine. The patient would then go back to the doctor to get a different prescription. With the system up and running, it will always be visible for doctors what’s in stock.”

The system will also be put in place and tested in a number of other hospitals in Kisubi, Kitgum, Nyakibala and Matany, before being scaled up the other hospitals with the support of IICD and Cordaid. These facilities will also be able to use a teleconference room for continuous training.


How to deal with unreliable power supply

An issue that still is recurring is that the power supply in the hospital is not always reliable, says Jenard Ntacyo “If there is a power outage, the hospitals have a generator, but often this generator only powers specific areas of the hospital. If the generator however does supply power for computers, they suffer from the switch from the regular power grid to the emergency generator. For this reason, we are now getting power stabilisers.”

After the test-phase, UCMB plans to support 10 more hospitals to digitise their patient records. This will be done through a facility readiness assessment, change management sessions, centralised & on-site training, deployment and maintenance of the equipment and the software.

Photos: Roel Burgler 

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