One man’s innovation turns Ugandan hospitals hi-tech

The Observer, Uganda (July 10-11, 2013)

Written by Diana Nabiruma

Have you ever wanted to know how many doctor visits you make per year or what your annual expenditure on health care is?

If you have, then Clinic Master software, developed by Wilson Kutegeka and others, will enable you to keep tabs on your healthcare expenditure and the number of visits you make to the doctor. Clinic Master, Kutegeka explains, enables the electronic capture of one’s biodata, clinical notes, laboratory requests and prescriptions, when one visits a health centre with the software.

In this way, should one make a request from their healthcare provider, one can access data on a number of visits to a doctor, laboratory visits, prescriptions given and amount of money spent on healthcare quarterly, bi-annually or annually. Whenever one may need this data, it is provided.

If you periodically have to pick medicine from a doctor and you think you might forget to pick it, you can subscribe so that you are sent a reminder, via text message.

“The text message reminder comes at a cost of Shs 50 on average,” Kutegeka says. SMS alerts are also available for laboratory reports that may take long to process; say, reports that could take a day or more.

Kutegeka says he developed Clinic Master software while working with the Joint Clinical Research Centre (JCRC).

“I saw people miss picking ARVs because they were not reminded,” Kutegeka says. “I also saw the struggles healthcare professionals go through to maintain patients’ data”.

The software is currently being used by at least 20 healthcare providers, including Mukono, Kayunga and Naggalama hospitals (supported by Makerere University Walter Reed Project), Case Medical Centre, Kadic hospital, Victoria University healthcare centre, Paragon and Gulu Independent hospitals.

“With this software, pharmacists are alerted when drugs are running low or are expired so that they can restock,” Kutegeka explains. In the same vein, patients can be sent text messages telling them of drug stock-outs.

“This way, patients who have to travel long distances to a hospital are warned so that they do not make useless journeys,” Kutegeka says.

But with information out there on the web, doesn’t the software erode doctor-patient confidentiality?

“Our system met the standards set by HIPAA [Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act that protects the privacy of people]. It is also configured in such a way that whoever is using the system [receptionist, doctor, laboratory technician, pharmacist], can only view what they are authorised to view,” Kutegeka says. He explains that a receptionist will only have access to biodata (not diagnosis) while a pharmacist will only be able to view a prescription.

However, information may be shared between doctors, with a patient’s authorization, should the need arise. For instance, if you were in Nakaseke and suffered a rise in blood pressure needing immediate medical attention, your doctor in Kampala may share your health information with a doctor in Nakaseke so that you don’t have to travel all the way to Kampala for treatment.

Kutegeka says the downside to this technology is that it requires an initial investment in computers, training of staff and this may be costly for a healthcare provider. It is also only viable in places with access to power and some doctors may find it hard to transfer from scribbling notes on a pad, to using a computer.