Research

Orthopaedic referrals using a smartphone app: Uptake, response times and outcome

R W Morkel, T N Mann, G du Preez, J du Toit

Abstract


Background. It is well established that South Africa (SA) suffers an immense burden of violence and injuries. The responsibility of providing care for these injuries falls mainly on public health services, resulting in overloading of the health system. Prior to a recent intervention, the large burden had been exacerbated by limitations in the traditional referral system that highlighted the need for a better referral system. Vula’s smartphone app was introduced at Tygerberg Hospital in August 2016. This study evaluated the uptake, response times and outcomes using this app.

Objectives. The main objectives of the study were to describe: (i) the number of referrals; (ii) referral response times; (iii) referring facilities; and (iv) referral outcomes. Secondary objectives were to: (i) evaluate whether the referral outcome pathway was appropriate; and (ii) assess professional conduct and evidence of upskilling.

Methods. This retrospective, descriptive study investigated Vula app referrals to the Division of Orthopaedic Surgery at Tygerberg Hospital between 1 August 2016 and 31 March 2017. Vula was advertised to key facilities in the hospital’s referral network. All referrals to the division during the study period were systematically included in the analysis of operational outcomes, although some were excluded from the subsequent referral outcome analysis. Operational outcomes included the number of referrals, referring facilities and referral response times. Referral outcome analysis included the clinical diagnosis, referral pathway, whether the referral was used for upskilling and whether it was conducted in a professional manner.

Results. A total of 2 275 referrals from 39 different facilities were received during the study period from 238 individual users; 50% of referrals received a response within 11 minutes, while a small percentage received no response. Clinical and demographic characteristics of 1 985 patients included in the referral outcome analysis indicated that the majority of trauma and emergency referrals involved males, with closed fractures being the most frequent clinical presentation. Although the most common referral outcome was immediate transfer, one-third of the patients were treated at the referring hospital with advice only.

Conclusions. The large volume of orthopaedic referrals received through the Vula app suggests that Vula represents a successful alternative to traditional referral methods. Referrals managed by advice only could suggest that Vula facilitates some relief for the overburdened trauma services. Future research could further explore Vula’s role in strengthening the public health system, including interventions for high-volume referral areas and upskilling of referring health workers.

 


Authors' affiliations

R W Morkel, Division of Orthopaedic Surgery, Department of Surgical Sciences, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Stellenbosch University, Cape Town, South Africa

T N Mann, Division of Orthopaedic Surgery, Department of Surgical Sciences, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Stellenbosch University, Cape Town, South Africa

G du Preez, Division of Orthopaedic Surgery, Department of Surgical Sciences, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Stellenbosch University, Cape Town, South Africa

J du Toit, Division of Orthopaedic Surgery, Department of Surgical Sciences, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Stellenbosch University, Cape Town, South Africa

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Keywords

Telemedicine; Trauma; Orthopaedics; mHealth; Referral; Smartphone

Cite this article

South African Medical Journal 2019;109(11):859-864. DOI:10.7196/SAMJ.2019.v109i11.13986

Article History

Date submitted: 2019-10-31
Date published: 2019-10-31

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