Mobile Laboratory In Caledon Improves Turnaround Times For Patients’ Test Results

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 NHLS medical technologist, Byron Strachan (left) demonstrates specimen testing techniques to  Western Cape Health Minister Theuns Botha (2nd from left), Prof Wolfgang Preiser of the Department of Medical Virology, NHLS/University of Stellenbosch, and NHLS CEO, Sagie Pillay (far right)

Following the transfer of a state-of-the-art R15 million diagnostic mobile laboratory from the Fraunhofer Institute for Biomedical Engineering in Saarland, Germany, to the Western Cape government at the end of last year, the laboratory has been operating as an extension of Caledon Hospital for the past four months.

The mobile laboratory was officially handed over to the Western Cape at a ceremony in March this year. Faced with the challenge on how to make optimal use of the state-of-the-art equipment, the Department of Health was advised by National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS) to station the mobile laboratory as an extension of Caledon Hospital to provide laboratory services to the people of the Overberg. Until the deployment of the mobile laboratory to Caledon, blood and sputum specimens from this region were couriered to Green Point, resulting in slow turnaround times. With the mobile laboratory now stationed in Caledon, patients receive their results for the majority of tests requested within a one to 12 hour period, as opposed to the previous waiting time of one to three days. By having a laboratory in the Overberg area, the waiting times for couriers and traveling times decreased significantly due to the shorter distance to the reference laboratory.

In the past four months the mobile laboratory has processed more than 2,900 specimens, and is expected to process even more as the network of specimen couriers gain momentum.

Specimens are sent to the mobile laboratory from health facilities in Caledon, Greyton, Genadendal, Hermanus, Stanford, Gansbaai, Hawston and Botriver. The plan is to add Bredasdorp, Swellendam and Theewaterskloof in the near future.

NHLS allocated a medical technologist, Byron Strachan, and technician, Simthembile Khulela, towards this project. They relocated from Cape Town to Caledon and are on standby after hours and over weekends for emergency specimen testing.

Tests done at the mobile laboratory include HIV rapid tests, TB, full blood count, cholesterol, blood glucose, liver functions, urea and electrolytes.

The close proximity of the mobile laboratory in the Overberg has made fast-tracking and processing of specimens possible, which has resulted in more efficient, effective and appropriate initiation of treatment. In the long term this will affect the length of stay in a hospital, and the burden of disease. By having the mobile laboratory in Caledon, serving the Overberg area, one of the principles of the health care 2020 vision, which is quality of care within the patient-centered approach, will be achieved.

Travelling and courier costs have also been significantly reduced.

Western Cape Health Minister, Theuns Botha, said that the addition of the mobile laboratory to the portfolio of health facilities in the Overberg has in a short period made a huge impact on service delivery in the region.

“Recent statistics available to the Western Cape government health indicate that the leading cause of death in the Overberg is TB, followed closely by HIV/AIDS. The fact that the mobile laboratory can perform detailed TB and HIV testing within a short period of time, helps healthcare workers start counselling and treatment immediately, thus restricting further infection of healthy