A paediatrician at the Dr Harry Surtie hospital in Upington in the Northern Cape is piloting a project to make it easier to consult and treat patients in far-flung areas virtually.

Doctor Brad Wentzel took it upon himself to cut travelling costs and waiting periods for patients in remote areas across the vast province.

The Dr Harry Surtie hospital and Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe hospital in Kimberley are the province’s only referral hospitals.

Dr Wentzel did his community service in Upington a few years ago. He moved back to Cape Town but decided to return to Upington’s Dr Harry Surtie hospital in 2018. A decision he doesn’t regret.

With his groundbreaking initiative, he is able to see his patients virtually.

“For now, it’s much like a screening process. So we have patients booked to see me specifically and patients who need specialised care and then I see them virtually, where I am able to take their history and also visually assess the patient. If I see any sort of obvious pathology. We also compare that imaging and I can compare x-rays for example on the screen as well as blood results.”

Far-flung areas

He says it is easier for people in far-flung areas to be treated quicker and preventing them from travelling, many hours to the Dr Harrie Surtie hospital and the Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe hospital in Kimberley.

“One of the biggest issues in our province is distance. I think it’s not always fair and practical. It’s not possible for patients to travel 400 kilometres to see a specialist. So the idea of using technology is to embrace it and see what we can do, to shorten the distance between myself and the patient.”

He is working hand-in-hand with other clinicians at the referral sites, saying he still decides whether he must see patients face-to-face.

“I think by my experience, just to take a thorough history from the patient, you can already have a differentiated diagnosis and we try and make sure that they don’t cause harm to the patient. Based on my history taking and based on the x-ray findings and the blood results, I then decide to probably see the patient physically by myself versus giving instructions to the clinicians at the referral sites and say please check if you feel a murmur or mass on the abdomen.”

He received the rural distinguish award from Discovery for his innovative work. He says he’ll use the money to purchase equipment and make the virtual consultations viable in most rural parts of the province.

In the video below Dr Wentzel demonstrates how he uses the technology to diagnose and treat patients in far-flung areas