E-health hits South Africa

South Africa EHR Upgrade

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Vendors interested in building a nationwide electronic health record (EHR) system in South Africa have a few more weeks to respond.

The South African State Information Technology Agency extended the deadline for responses to its request for information (RFI) on development of a nationwide EHR system for the state's Department of Health to Aug. 12. The original deadline was today.

The department wants to develop an electronic system of health records for the country's 45 million citizens and envisions a minimum five-year contract for the project.

Vendors and teams culled from responses to the RFI will be invited to provide concrete proposals that would lead to formal, negotiated contracts. The health department will judge proposals on innovation, long-term potential and development of local skills.

The RFI states that the department would consider the use of open-source software. Joseph Dal Molin, a director of WorldVistA, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the spread of open-source software based on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture (VistA), said using open-source software could save South Africa hundreds of millions of dollars compared with the cost of a commercial EHR system.

Dal Molin added that using open-source software such as VistA would provide South Africa with more than just bottom-line savings. The country could use VistA as the basis of a standard system that covers all medical records from doctors' offices to hospitals, he said. "This level of integration would be unprecedented and would lead to huge strategic leverage in the area of health quality improvement," Dal Molin said. "They could mimic the processes the VA has but would have the advantage of having better data standardization."

Earlier this week, the Pacific Telehealth and Technology Hui, a health research development center backed by the VA and the Defense Department, released a new version of its open-source VistA software. The new version is easier to configure and offers added functionality.

The RFI envisions the use of smart cards and biometrics to identify patients, and it states that the EHR system must be able to function at different levels of care nationwide. Patient information will be tied to a national master patient index, and all EHRs will be housed in a central data repository, the RFI said.


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