More than 14.2 million patient records have been captured onto a national digital platform in a significant milestone towards the digitisation of the country’s health sector.
The newly introduced electronic patient record system, dubbed “Lightwave Health Information Management System (LHIMS)”, has been deployed in all teaching, regional and district hospitals across the country as of last month.
This means that health and social care records can be accessed at the touch of a button in all the hospitals operating the system.
The hospitals operating the system have subsequently migrated from using manual folders to the LHIMS software, ushering in a new era of healthcare delivery where patients will no longer carry folders from one service point to another.
Consequently, work is ongoing to fully extend the initiative to all facilities at the lower level such as polyclinics, health centres and community-based health planning services (CHPS) compounds with the completion date scheduled between December 2023 and 2024.
The government plans to integrate the records of the patients with the national identification system.
A medical practitioner at Pantang Hospital, Dr Alex Owusu Ansah, in an interview with the Daily Graphic in Accra, stated that LHIMS had created a new era of healthcare delivery where patients were no longer expected to carry folders from one service point to another or from one hospital to another.
With that, he said, consistent processes which brought an end to paper records and an integrated system that put people at the heart of services had now been established.
That was because it offered immediate access to information about patients and clients for all health and care workers, Dr Ansah said.
However, Dr Ansah questioned the efficiency of LHIMS due to its frequent breakdown.
Before LHIMS, he said the Pantang Hospital operated an internal patient record system called the Hospital Administration Management System (HAMS), which was more efficient than LHIMS.
The usage of LHIMS at the implementing hospitals has shown some form of weakness and challenges which undermine the delivery of health service.
The weaknesses are periodic system breakdown resulting in delays and the long queues at the implementing hospitals, which combined to defeat the purpose for which the system was introduced.
The government through the Ministry of Health (MoH) deployed LHIMS, the electronic patient record system, in 2017 under the national electronic-health project, as part of a national digitisation agenda.
As a national electronic medical record and patient management system, LHIMS seeks to improve access to patient data at the point of care and improve claims management and systems harmonisation.
It is expected to offer Ghanaians a paperless form of healthcare delivery, reduce waiting time, support clinical and public health services and provide a 360-degree view of a patient’s health by pulling information from all departments, among others.
Some major functions of the system include managing electronic medical records, laboratories and pharmacies.
The Lightwave Healthcare Services (LHS) is executing the project to link all hospitals, clinics and health centres of the Ghana Health Service (GHS).
The Daily Graphic’s week-long monitoring at some of the general hospitals in the country showed that patients’ information indeed is being accessed at the touch of a button with the LHIMS.
It provided accurate and timely data for hospital administrators, management, providers and clinicians for vital decision-making when operating efficiently.
On a bad day when the system breaks down, health service providers and officers have to resort to manual record taking to provide the needed service to patients.
The system breakdowns occurred at least once or twice a week in hospitals visited, including the Tema General Hospital, the Greater Accra Regional Hospital, the Tetteh Quarshie Memorial Hospital, the Tamale Teaching Hospital, the LEKMA Hospital and the Pantang Hospital.
The breakdown, which sometimes takes the whole day to restore, results in a lot of delay which defeats the intended purpose of its establishment.
A middle-aged woman, who only gave her name as Esther, told the Daily Graphic at LEKMA Hospital at Teshie that she had been delayed for nearly four hours due to system breakdown.
She said money had already been paid at the cashier’s unit but the other service providers insisted it was yet to reflect, a situation that led to further delay.
Providing an update on the national electronic-health project in Accra, the Minister of Health (MoH), Kwaku Agyeman-Manu, said the main objectives of the electronic patient record system were to improve patients’ flow and reduce waiting time, system harmonisation, access to patient information and continuity of care.
As a result, he said, LHIMS was to network health facilities, deploy hardware and licence software facilities, and train health professionals on the usage of the system.
“After the general hospitals, 50 teams have been deployed to install LHIMS in 55 health facilities concurrently.
We are working to enrol all lower-level facilities such as the health centres and CHPS compounds by December 2024.
“We have in the process trained 115,000 health professionals on the use of the system and more than 14.2 million patients have been registered on the platform with 21 million patient visits recorded so far,” he said.
Benefits so far
The minister noted that the government had started seeing some of the benefits for the implementation of the system which included cost saving, removal of manual folder printing, folder storage and improved revenues at the health facilities.
“We have seen improved continuity of health care, patient data portability across facilities, patient history for clinical decision-making and so when you are referred from one facility to the other you do not need to carry a folder again because all records will be seen everywhere so far as you have the unique number in the system.
“We have also seen improved claim submission and significant reduction in the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) claims rejection rate from 15 per cent to less than 10 per cent,” he said.
He said with the new system, there had been support for real-time disease surveillance and early warning systems to strengthen public health emergency preparedness.
He added that the country now had efficient gains through reduction of patient waiting time, bed management, availability of real time bio-surveillance and early warning system.
An international digital transformation consultant, Paa Kwesi Barnes, who commended the government for the initiative, noted that digitisation of health records was highly significant and would help improve access to patient data.
He said that was because electronic medical records captured patients’ entire medical history, including allergies even at remote communities.
Paa Barnes said the immediate access of information about patients and clients for all healthcare workers made service delivery safer, more efficient and effective.
He attributed the frequent breakdown of the LHIMS system to human interferences, poor connectivity and bad design of the digital infrastructure.
Going forward, the digital expert added that as steps were being taken to address challenges associated with LHIMS, the government must prioritise data security and privacy to prevent theft and data breaches, given the sensitive nature of health issues.
By this, Ghana will be able to join the league of countries that have successfully implemented a solid digital infrastructure to improve how health and social care is delivered.
This report is produced under the DPI Africa Journalism Fellowship Programme of the Media Foundation for West Africa and Co-Develop.