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April 2, 2020

A practical and public-facing healthcare platform

As the country, and the world, faces a global pandemic, ensuring that health care facilities across South Africa can deliver services to citizens has never been more crucial. 

With the threat of coronavirus hanging over the country, one province is turning to technology as a solution to improving overall processes and increasing real-time data collection about public facilities, with the launch of the Mpilo Healthcare app. 

Putting the groundwork in place

Prior to the launch of the app, the MEC for Health in Gauteng, Bandile Masuku, engaged patients to determine what the most critical issues that needed to be addressed are. “Based on the feedback, we uncovered that the top five issues amongst patients are waiting times, patient safety, infrastructure, staff attitudes and facility cleanliness,” says Chief Information Officer, Solly Cave. 

“In most hospitals we have paper-based models for patient engagement, but it doesn’t give the department real-time data which can improve our response time and decision-making process,” he adds.

The department determined that automating processes would form a key part of the solution in order to address these issues and improve departmental performance. “We wanted to create a transparent platform that could ultimately improve service delivery to patients.”

As a proof of concept, a portal was implemented at Thembisa Hospital where patients could rate services and raise issues around their experience at the facility. “It worked very well, but when we investigated the capital layout and infrastructure required it became prohibitive and would take us too long to implement across the province,” says Cave.

Enter Boxfusion and the Mpilo Healthcare app

Mobiles devices, whether smart or feature phones, are ubiquitous in South Africa, and presented a logical solution to the challenge of patient engagement. 

“We needed the solution to be delivered in a short period of time,” says Cave. “We had previously done work with Boxfusion on more back-office items, but the app was a different ballgame. It’s really public-facing in a services environment.”

The department engaged Boxfusion to create the app via their partnership with Vodacom. “Boxfusion understands the urgency of our service. We need changes and updates to be delivered within a short period of time, so we can take the rest of the time to entrench the app and get value for citizens.”

The Mpilo Healthcare app, version 1.1


The first version of the app sought to address the five key areas of concern raised by citizens. “It’s a psychological thing to create a platform for the patient to really engage and get their issues resolved,” says Cave. 

Users can report staff behaviour or facility uncleanliness anonymously in the app. They can also view management contact details through a directory listing, and get information and alerts relating to their nearest facility.

Using the geolocation feature, patients can find out where their nearest facility is, and navigate there using the app’s built-in capabilities. This geolocation feature will be particularly powerful during the second phase of Mpilo, which is set to be rolled out before April.

Need a ride?

This second phase includes an Uber-like ambulance requesting capability. “I think our ambulance hailing feature will be the biggest value-add to date,” highlights Cave. “The fleet is already available. At a user interface level, it’s sleek and simplistic. You call an ambulance and the app will detect your location. Based on this information, it will send the nearest ambulance to you.”

There are further additions to this. The first is a One-Time-Pin security feature to protect against hoax calls, and the second is the ability for the caller to answer questions about the seriousness of the incident for which they need the ambulance. This is so that the paramedics can determine a provisional diagnosis on route.

While features like this will be implemented across the app every three months, some emergencies require a more agile response, as when the coronavirus lands on local shores. When the first case was reported in South Africa, Boxfusion received a brief from the department and created a self-screening and awareness feature about the virus on the app, all within 24-hours.

Since the outbreak of the virus and the subsequent 21-day government lockdown, the app has been transformed into a tool that labs can use to upload new cases daily, and that healthcare practitioners and COVID-testers can use to track and trace people who have come into contact with anyone testing positive for corona. 

“The faster you can trace contacts of positive cases and get them to isolate, the quicker you can contain the spread,” says Ian Houvet, director of Boxfusion. “We’re turning Mpilo into a platform where labs can upload their daily case reports directly, so that positive cases can be captured within an hour.” 

Those who have potentially come into contact with an infected person will be asked to download the app, zero-rated on most service providers, and log any symptoms they may have. Should they meet certain symptomatic criteria, a healthcare provider will be dispatched to test them for the virus.

More to come

There are great ambitions for just how this app can be used to enhance engagement with citizens. “We want the ability to provide a full scope of digital health services using mobile technology,” insists Cave. “Not only does it give us a platform to improve service, but it also gives the public insight into how we are performing in our jobs.”

This full-scope of services will in future also include appointment-booking at facilities within the app as a means to address the public health sector’s notoriously long waiting times. “If you go to public health facilities, currently people are standing in long queues and when they finally get to the front, they may find that the service they need is offered in a different facility,” says Cave.   

The app will also be updated to provide a comprehensive communication loop between citizen-facing issues and internal facilities. “Right now, it’s one-way traffic,” says Cave, “we want to integrate the issues of patient care to organisational functions.” Thus, if an issue is reported at a facility, such as a broken window, this communication should be directed to the infrastructure department, who can then report back to the patient once the issue has been resolved. 

This feature will also extend to medical supplies so that health professionals can be alerted to stock levels and replenish them before a patient even has time to report the concern. 

“We want to create a transparent platform to improve service delivery to citizens,” says Cave. “Think of all the opportunities we can afford patients when we apply technology to the health sector. When done in the right way, we can alleviate some of the pressures on patient services.”

To find out more about the Mpilo Healthcare App, or download it for yourself, head here