- Hospitals have had to change their way of operating as a result of the coronavirus
- This involved changing the way they interact and communicate with patients
- The measures taken by the Wits Donald Gordon Medical Centre could become an example for other medical facilities in South Africa
Covid-19 has highlighted the need for safer, more digitally enabled hospitals that make them better prepared for the future, writes Dr Sue Tager.
When the threat of Covid-19 hit South Africa, it became apparent that we had to take every precaution to ensure that the Wits Donald Gordon Medical Centre (WDGMC) was able to safely continue delivering care to our patients, many of whom are seriously ill and receive lifesaving treatment in our facility.
Suddenly there was this sword hanging over us. Everything we knew before lockdown went out of the window and we had to adapt to a completely new way of doing things. Standard medical practice we have relied on up to now has been turned upside down. This includes the way we interact with each other and with our patients.
We had to take stringent action to keep staff and patients safe. That meant shutting down a lot of our regular activities. We have had to adapt our normal processes to minimise the unseen threat of Covid-19. Visiting hours have been suspended and all staff and patients undergo a high level of screening. Like the rest of the country, we wear PPE and masks and are constantly washing and sanitising our hands, understanding the importance of being on high-risk alert.
Avoiding 'in-person' contact
We have also irrevocably changed the way we do things. We have digitally transformed our hospital using technology to provide a seamless, contactless, and paperless process. Patients upload their medical aid details and ID cards onto an app. Referral forms are filled in via the app, which enables the specialists to collaborate on any patient’s treatment and benefit from the flow of clinical information.
All doctors and staff can screen themselves electronically before coming to work. Most of our meetings are now done online. Many doctors have moved to online consultations to avoid in-person contact and avoid risk. While many people are resistant to this kind of technology, it can be a very effective way of communicating during these times, and with the relaxation of the HPCSA regulations around telehealth, this can be a very safe option.
As a hospital, we have the added complexity of treating a lot of chronically ill patients ranging from geriatric and oncology patients, to renal and hepatology patients. Although it has been challenging, we have found a way to continue treating our seriously sick patients as well as accommodate Covid-19 positive patients when required to do so.
As a teaching hospital, we also have a busy transplant department which performs the bulk of liver transplants in this country for both fee-paying and state patients. We have managed to keep these particularly vulnerable patients safe, as our Transplant Unit is in a stand-alone building, with dedicated staff.
Better prepared for the future
When we eventually come out of lockdown and into a post-Covid-19 world, we will have learnt an invaluable lesson: how to minimise the risk of any type of infection that may follow this pandemic. The steps we have taken in our hospital could well become a blueprint for other facilities in this country, be they private or state hospitals, although I believe that many are trying to do what we have done.
My feeling is that although the emergence of Covid-19 has been devastating for humanity, some good may have come out of it, in that should we be faced with future pandemics, we will have learned from the experience on how to cope optimally.
We will come through this, either through a vaccine or by people developing an immunity to the coronavirus. But, whatever the case, it has rendered us better prepared for the future. We are ready to embrace a "brave new world" of better patient care.
*Dr Sue Tager is Hospital Manager and CEO of Wits Donald Gordon Medical Centre
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