Mediclinic brings cutting-edge COVID-19 screening tools to SA

Posted on 22 April 2020

Mediclinic’s coronavirus disease online assessment portal helps you know if you need to be tested, and whether you should visit a hospital for treatment – from the comfort of your own computer.

The World Health Organization first reported a cluster of pneumonia cases in Wuhan, Hubei province, China, on 31 December 2019. Since then, the disease has spread rapidly across the world, and the WHO declared the outbreak a pandemic on 11 March 2020.

“When coronavirus disease (COVID-19) first emerged in South Africa members of the public didn’t have accurate information about it and certainly didn’t know with certainty whether they qualified for testing. Mediclinic’s Emergency Centres were flooded with calls from anxious and confused South Africans, clamoring for clarity: I’ve just returned from overseas, should I be tested? We used cutting-edge technology to make this information readily available – and in a matter of hours.”

As disease outbreaks occur, epidemiologists hurry to study and analyse the distribution, patterns and determinants of the disease. They translate this knowledge into case definitions: a set of clinical and epidemiological criteria that determine who should be isolated and tested for the disease.

Dr Robyn Holgate is the Chief Medical Officer at ER24 and is a member of the clinical team at Mediclinic Southern Africa. Since the first cases of COVID-19 were diagnosed in South Africa, she was part of the team tasked with managing the company’s response. “Case definitions are not accessible to the general population,” says Dr Holgate. “When COVID-19 began to spread rapidly around the world, and we knew South Africa was going to be affected, we knew we had to find a way to make this information widely and readily available.”

Mediclinic’s cutting-edge online COVID-19 screening portal was her brainchild, and it was developed in two phases.

Phase one was set in motion in a matter of hours. “The first objective was to alleviate public confusion and relieve strain on our emergency centres, by creating a screening tool and provide reliable advice on the need for testing,” explains Dr Holgate. “People were calling in to ask, Should I get tested, and where and how does that happen? This tool gives you the answers you’re looking for in just a few clicks. A call centre agent at the ER24 Call Centre then provides locality-specific advice on where and how you could go for testing.”

“We’ve also built in the capability for complex queries or scenarios to be escalated to an on-call clinical team of Registered Nurses and Paramedics,” explains Yolanda Walsh, Mediclinic’s Nursing Odyssey Programme Manager and one of the team members manning the clinical escalation service.  “We’re proud of the service we offer members of the public and healthcare practitioners and it has been very satisfying providing expert advice to allay fears and provide reassurance.”

The COVID-19 Online Assessment for testing was launched on 12 March. To date, 35 000 people have completed the online assessment and received guidance and advice; close to 30 000 were advised to self-isolate and 4 993 people have been advised to go for testing.

Phase two takes the form of an online assessment designed to answer another burning question: should I go to hospital? “We found that as the disease spread, the questions we were being asked began to evolve. So our portal has evolved too.” The COVID-19 Online Assessment: Do I need to go to hospital? The online assessment asks 24 questions, and provides an in-depth evaluation of your risk. It is then able to categorise your level of risk and make a recommendation accordingly, even referring you to an ER24 emergency resource officer for immediate medical assistance through the Mediclinic COVID-19 Hotline, 0860 24 00 24.

This knowledge is vital. “The challenge in front of us is containing the spread of COVID-19 to a manageable rate. If we can make accurate clinical information easily accessible, we can give ordinary South Africans the tools they need to beat this disease.”

Published in Business