Evaluation of a Managed Surgical Consultation Network in Malawi.
Mwapasa G., Pittalis C., Clarke M., Bijlmakers L., Le G., Mkandawire N., Brugha R., Borgstein E., Gajewski J.
BACKGROUND: Access to surgery is a challenge for low-income countries like Malawi due to shortages of specialists, especially in rural areas. District hospitals (DH) cater for the immediate surgical needs of rural patients, sending difficult cases to central hospitals (CH), usually with no prior communication. METHODS: In 2018, a secure surgical managed consultation network (MCN) was established to improve communication between specialist surgeons and anaesthetists at Queen Elizabeth and Zomba Central Hospitals, and surgical providers from nine DHs referring to these facilities. RESULTS: From May to December 2018, DHs requested specialist advice on 249 surgical cases through the MCN, including anonymised images (52% of cases). Ninety six percent of cases received advice, with a median of two specialists answering. For 74% of cases, a first response was received within an hour, and in 68% of the cases, a decision was taken within an hour from posting the case on MCN. In 60% of the cases, the advice was to refer immediately, in 26% not to refer and 11% to possibly refer at a later stage. CONCLUSION: The MCN facilitated quick access to consultations with specialists on how to manage surgical patients in remote rural areas. It also helped to prevent unnecessary referrals, saving costs for patients, their guardians, referring hospitals and the health system as a whole. With time, the network has had spillover benefits, allowing the Ministry of Health closer monitoring of surgical activities in the districts and to respond faster to shortages of essential surgical resources.