The University of Pretoria’s (UP) accelerator start-up, Aviro Health, has developed an automated chatbot app for the Western Cape Department of Health which works via WhatsApp and confirms delivery of chronic medication to patients’ homes. The app, Pocket Clinic, also allows high-risk chronic patients to confirm an existing appointment before accessing services at their attending healthcare facility, which means they do not have to wait in long queues when they get there. 

Aviro Health specialises in designing and implementing mobile health interventions that address the challenges at the interface between patients and health workers. TuksNovation, UP’s technology incubator and accelerator, provides specialised product and business development support and enables technology start-ups to commercialise innovative technology with social and economic impact.

 Since the soft launch of the Pocket Clinic healthbot in mid-May 2020, over 700 users have accessed the chatbot app, with over 500 completed orders to receive chronic medication. Additionally, approximately 100 users have requested callbacks from healthcare providers in their respective facilities through the platform.

These users all heard about the tool by word of mouth from existing users and made their requests from all over the Cape Town metropole, from Mitchells Plain, Plumstead and Edgemead, to the CBD.

“The Department wanted a system that would respond to high-risk chronic patient queries timeously and to give people peace of mind that their medication will be delivered to their homes. The system also allows our high-risk healthcare workers the opportunity to assist clients with their queries without placing their lives in danger as well,” said Mohamed Sonday, Pharmacist at Mitchells Plain Hospital.

“Not only has the chatbot been of value in helping communities receive their medication, but it has also been an easy way for patients to manage their health without increased risk of contracting COVID-19 and simplified the medication distribution process for staff at our healthcare facilities,” said Sonday.

Between April and May 2020, the second and third months of the COVID-19 lockdown in the country, the Department saw approximately 159 000 pre-packed chronic medication parcels delivered to stable patients’ homes living in the Western Cape. To ensure the safety of vulnerable patients, the Department has provided all stable and high-risk patients with a two-month supply of chronic medication.

Once their medication has been depleted, community health workers will deliver medication to their homes. The Department’s data shows people with comorbidities such as diabetes, hypertension, TB, HIV/Aids, cancer, chronic lung disease and heart disease are at higher risk of becoming severely ill with COVID-19.

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