Familiar healthcare challenges in a rewarding new environment

When I moved to South Africa a few months ago, I knew that I wanted to get involved as a volunteer with one of the many wonderful organizations promoting health in this country where so many people face enormous barriers to health and wellness.  I am so happy to have found Project Hope where I’ve been able to take part in the wonderful work they are doing in the Zandspruit township near Johannesburg.

The project I began when I started working at the HOPE Centre clinic in Zandspruit was an inventory tracking system for the clinic pharmacy.   In this busy clinic, open 3 days per week, patients are primarily seen for the treatment of diabetes and hypertension.  However, nurses also address common illnesses/ailments as many patients do not have ready access to family medicine providers.  Thus, the clinic pharmacy is as busy as the clinic and stocks a wide array of medications to treat patients.

As I started the process of building an inventory system that could be implemented in the clinic pharmacy, I was struck by a number of similarities between the challenges I saw in this clinic in South Africa and other healthcare practice environments I’ve worked in.

The first was the challenge of ensuring that the clinic was able to stock the right number of the correct supplies to meet the variable demand created by patients coming in with an unpredictable set of symptoms and conditions.  This is a challenge almost all providers face but especially so here where the clinic attempts to keep all medications on-hand and not create another barrier to care by sending patients out to a pharmacy with a script.

The second is that in order to match supply with demand as effectively as possible, record-keeping must be accurate and detailed enough to inform regular purchases/ordering for the clinic.  As I evaluated the barriers to getting this data at the HOPE Centre clinic pharmacy, I was met with the familiar “paper problem.”  Records were kept on paper and not electronically in a form that could be used to easily evaluate how many and what kind of medications were being used each day at the clinic.

Finally, across most healthcare practice environments, the detailed and sometimes monotonous tasks of collecting data, evaluating that data, and making decisions based on it are not what most healthcare providers want to, nor should spend their time doing.  Their valuable time is better spent with patients:  educating, treating, and providing care.  While the behind-the-scenes tasks are important, it is important and often a significant challenge to ensure that providers receive the support that they need to do their jobs seamlessly and maximize the time they are able to spend with patients.

With an inventory system now in place that will help address some of those challenges, I hope that the HOPE Centre clinic in Zandspruit will now be even more efficient and able to treat more patients who I know greatly appreciate the much-needed and high-quality care Project HOPE is providing in this community.

Julie Brink


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