Original Research

Investigating the effect of the Vula Mobile app on coordination of care and capacity building in district health services, Cape Town: Convergent mixed methods study

Patrick Gloster, Robert Mash, Steve Swartz
South African Family Practice | Vol 63, No 1 : Part 4| a5251 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/safp.v63i1.5251 | © 2021 Patrick Gloster, Robert Mash, Steve Swartz | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 12 November 2020 | Published: 22 September 2021

About the author(s)

Patrick Gloster, Division of Family Medicine and Primary Care, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Stellenbosch University, Cape Town, South Africa
Robert Mash, Division of Family Medicine and Primary Care, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Stellenbosch University, Cape Town, South Africa
Steve Swartz, Division of Family Medicine and Primary Care, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Stellenbosch University, Cape Town, South Africa; and, Metro Health Services, Western Cape Provincial Government, Cape Town, South Africa

Abstract

Background: Coordinating care is a defining characteristic of high quality primary care. Currently, very little is known about coordination of care in South Africa’s primary care setting. The Vula Mobile app was introduced in 2018 to assist with referring patients from primary care facilities to the Eerste River District Hospital (ERDH) emergency centre. The aim of this study was to evaluate the use of the app and its effect on coordination of care and capacity building of staff.

Methods: Convergent mixed methods were used with quantitative data collected from hospital records and the Vula Mobile database, and with qualitative data collected from health professionals in primary care and the district hospital.

Results: Out of 13 321 patients seen in the emergency centre of the district hospital over the 6-month study period, only 1932 (14.5%) of the patients were referred with Vula. Most of these referrals were accepted (85.5%). Sometimes, advice was given to (35.0%) or additional information was requested (27.4%) from the referring doctor. There was little use of Vula in providing other feedback (0.6%). The introduction of the Vula app led to a decrease in the number of inappropriately referred patients (6.7% to 4.2%, p = 0.004). Doctors using the Vula app perceived that it improved care coordination and had the potential for useful feedback.

Conclusion: Vula improved coordination of patients referred from primary care facilities in the Metro Health Services to the district hospital, but missed the opportunity to support continuing professional development and learning. Utilisation of the Vula app should be increased and its potential to provide feedback should be enhanced. Attention should be given to reducing the number of patients self-referred or referred without using the Vula app.


Keywords

primary care; primary healthcare; coordination of care; capacity building; health information technology

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