Mobile technology: Vula makes it easy to refer patients to specialists
Mobile technology app called Vula is the brainchild of Dr William Mapham, who conceived the idea for the app while working at the Vula Emehlo Eye Clinic in rural Swaziland. He experienced first-hand the difficulties faced by rural health workers when they need specialist advice.
The aim of the mobile technology app is to give health workers – particularly those in remote rural areas – a tool that helps to get patients quick and efficient specialist care.
A flash grant from the Shuttleworth Foundation, and some prototype design work from Flow Interactive (now part of Deloitte Digital) helped Dr Mapham to win the SAB Foundation Social Innovation Award in 2013. The prize money enabled him to launch the app for Android and iOS in July 2014.
The app was initially only for ophthalmology referrals, but it quickly became clear that the functionality provided by Vula was widely needed. Specialists from several different fields donated their time to work with the Vula team to design functionality for their own specialities. Vula added cardiology, orthopaedics and burns in April 2016.
How it works
Vula connects remote primary health care workers directly to on-call medical specialists using mobile technology. It is a secure medical chat & referral app that puts primary health workers in direct contact with medical specialists.
Vula provides features that aid health care workers in providing the best care to patients, particularly in rural settings. The app facilitates referrals across medical specialties including Ophthalmology, Cardiology, Burns & Orthopaedics.
Essentially, Vula puts specialist knowledge into the primary health care worker's pocket, which leads to an increase in quality referrals, cost savings on patient transport, the empowerment of primary health care workers and ultimately improved patient care.
Health care workers will use the Vula app on their smartphones to assess, record and send patient information to specialists. This includes access to camera functionality, acuity tests, diagnostic information and specialty-specific patient forms.
Specialists then receive the information and use Vula's chat function to advice the health care worker on the next steps to treatment (either on-site treatment and guidance, medical advice or instructions to send to the local hospital).
Ophthalmology: Use the quick eye test to assess the patient’s visual acuity.
Cardiology: Capture diagnosis, patient history, examination details and medication.
Orthopaedics: Refer skeletal, spinal or spontaneous onset injuries.
Burns: Capture total burns surface area and burn depth.
HIV: Referral form captures clinical conditions, CD4 count and viral load, as well as ART history.
Dermatology: Capture rash distribution and type, clinical history and – most importantly – photographs.