Technology revolutionizes care in UNRWA health clinics

09 September 2015
Dr. Mohamed Abu Lehya in Gaza. © 2015 UNRWA Photo by Khalil Adwan
Ihasn Tannous and Dr. Hala Hannoun in the West Bank. © 2015 UNRWA Photo by Ruba Hafayda

Most people dislike going to the doctor enough, without having to wait for hours in a crowded waiting room.  Moreover, waiting for hours in a crowded health clinic can have detrimental effects on the very patients who are trying to feel better. But at the UNRWA Am’ari health centre in the West Bank, 70-year-old Ihasn Tannous gestures at the empty chairs. “Look! Many chairs are empty, because people come for appointments without spending hours waiting,” he says. “Before the e-health system, I would wait for hours in a crowded corridor with other patients. There was no place to sit and the crowdedness made me nervous. It increased my blood pressure and affected my diabetes.”

Ihasn and the thousands of patients who visit UNRWA health clinics each year are benefiting from one of the health reforms UNRWA has instituted to improve patient care: e-health.  E-health is an electronic patient record system that is replacing paper records in UNRWA health centres and forms part of ongoing UNRWA efforts to improve the quality of primary health care for Palestine refugees. Implemented thanks to generous funding by donors including the United States, e-health is complemented by other reforms, such as an electronic appointment system.

Electronic files make it quicker and easier for doctors to access patient information, allowing more contact time with patients. This leads to more thorough examinations, accurate diagnoses and treatment, and better doctor-patient relationships. Quicker searches for patient files have also reduced patient waiting times and improved patient flow.

Halima, a 35-year-old mother living in Jordan, is another Palestine refugee who has noticed a remarkable difference since the introduction of e-health. Halima’s four-year-old son Zeid had anemia so severe that he was on the verge of being referred to hospital. But increased contact time has meant nurses have been able to offer advice on proper nutrition. An upturn in the boy’s health has brought much joy to his family. Little Zeid is also happy with the changes. “I like visiting the clinic now because it is quiet and clean,” he says. “I like to see nurse Khawla because she likes me and teaches me what to eat.”

E-health also allows for better data management, leading to improved monitoring and follow-up on patients; holistic individual and family files that track medical history; and reports that analyze disease patterns and trends.  These improvements mean UNRWA health professionals have better outcomes, including lower antibiotic prescription rates and better maternal care – which leads to healthier babies and children.

Dr. Mohamed Abu Lehya, a senior medical officer with UNRWA in Gaza, has been working with the Agency for 29 years. “Previously, we sometimes faced cases of inaccurate data or patient information due to the involvement of many different doctors in the diagnosis and prescription of medication,” he explains. “E-health ensures accuracy and transparency in UNRWA health centres. The system helps us plan ahead and efficiently assess the needs of the patients. It also contributes to the monitoring of communicable diseases by indicating a growth in certain symptoms in the community, thus enabling us to take precautionary steps immediately.”

E-health will be introduced in 98 of the 137 UNRWA health centres by the end of 2015. It will be rolled out in all health centres, except for those in Syria, by the end of 2016. Full implementation in Syria will depend on the ongoing conflict.