The University of Cape Town’s (UCT) National HIV and TB Healthcare Worker hotline has served healthcare workers across the length and breadth of South Africa. Established as a helpline for those in need of guidance and clarity on HIV and TB medicines and management, the hotline has grown by leaps and bounds. While so much has changed in 15 years, their philosophy to serve healthcare workers with care and distinction every day remains firmly intact.
Since the phone lines first started buzzing in March 2008, the National HIV and TB Healthcare Worker hotline has fielded almost 70 000 calls. From the Western Cape to Limpopo Province, the team of expert pharmacists on the other end of the line have serviced doctors, nurses and pharmacists practicing in public and private healthcare facilities in all corners of the country. An initiative of UCT’s Medicines Information Centre (MIC) – based in the Division of Clinical Pharmacology in the Department of Medicine – the hotline is considered a valuable, quick and easy-to-use resource for those in need. It is funded by the Global Fund – an organisation dedicated to fighting HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria, via South Africa’s national Department of Health (DoH), and the DoH’s Pharmacovigilance Centre for Public Health Programmes.
Pharmacists are available during weekdays from 08:30 to 16:30 to answer an array of questions about HIV and TB medicines, some of which relate to pre- and post-exposure prophylaxis; antiretroviral (ARV) therapy; tips on managing and preventing TB; and interpreting and responding to laboratory results. Getting in touch with the team is easy. Healthcare workers either opt to dial in the conventional way via the toll-free number, send an SMS or Please Call Me or contact a pharmacist via email, Facebook or the mobile application.
“The number of calls we’ve fielded over the past decade and half is indicative that a hotline of this kind is so needed.”
“We are thrilled to be celebrating 15 years of service to South African healthcare workers. It’s a milestone indeed. The number of calls we’ve fielded over the past decade and a half is indicative that a hotline of this kind is so needed and benefits our colleagues in clinics and hospitals across the country,” said Professor Marc Blockman, the director of the MIC.
In celebration of the hotline’s 15th anniversary, UCT News canvassed the sector and spoke to a few healthcare workers about their experiences and how the platform makes a difference in their lives and that of their patients.
Ashlee Bubb – pharmacy supervisor, DP Marais TB Hospital, Cape Town
“When I started at DP Marais Hospital in 2014, I found an MIC pamphlet next to the phone that read: ‘Need medicine-related help?’ On day one I had an ARV enquiry; I was out of options on what to advise and I dialled the MIC number. Let’s just say that the rest is history. Now I phone them at all hours – first thing on a Monday morning or late on a Friday afternoon.
“The hotline has been hugely beneficial for me. It means that I can advise doctors accordingly and dispense the correct dosage of medication, which means patients receive optimal care and service at our facility. I’m at ease knowing that there’s a knowledgeable pharmacist on the other end of the phone line who’s willing to assist me. Sometimes, all one needs is just to discuss drug interactions or confirm a dosage and they’ll always revert with the answers I need.
“I will absolutely not be able to provide the best patient care without the hotline. Pharmacists there are the invisible colleagues in my hospital pharmacy setting. Keep up the good work.”
Dr Miles Bartlett – senior medical officer, Mossel Bay Provincial Hospital
“The hotline staff are always helpful and a brilliant source of guidance and have been ever since I started calling in five years ago. Knowing that there’s always someone I can ask and who will easily be able to advise me on certain clinical enquiries is a big help.
“As a doctor, the hotline has also helped me to expand my knowledge on HIV and TB medicines in order for me to care for my patients.”
“As a doctor, the hotline has also helped me to expand my knowledge on HIV and TB medicines in order for me to care for my patients. It’s my go-to guide when I can’t remember everything; it’s like calling a friend. I probably could function without it but finding those answers would take up too much time.”
Nicole Bruton – clinical nurse practitioner, False Bay Hospital, Cape Town
“I’ve been using the hotline for the past 10 years when I’m unsure about something or when I need a second opinion on the care or treatment regimen for patients. What’s great is that I receive input from them the same day, while the patient is still in my care.
“I love that the hotline pharmacists have the latest guidelines and resources online to provide the information I need. But they also apply common sense to certain scenarios. There is never a stupid question and whatever I ask them, they always manage to find a solution.
“Could I function without it? That’s a ‘yes, but’ answer. I often don’t have an HIV-experienced clinician nearby who I can ask my questions and HIV is not always straightforward. So, I’d be quite stuck on occasion and would really need to make use of the service. I’m an advocate for the hotline, especially with new colleagues and interns who feel intimidated to make that call. I encourage them to do it. It’s a valuable resource, especially on HIV.”
Dr Rosemond Henry – medical officer, Lady Michaelis Community Day Centre, Cape Town
“The hotline is greatly beneficial because it provides a platform where I can present complicated scenarios telephonically and receive the solution in a short space of time. Many clinicians work independently these days and we don’t have colleagues who we can easily bounce ideas off. So, the hotline is a very useful resource, especially since I receive a response to my query roughly 15 to 20 minutes after making the call. This means I can easily implement the regimen on the same day as the patient’s consultation – improving the quality of care for patients.
“It’s a fantastic resource that’s just a phone call away and I’ve passed the contact details onto many interns.”
“It’s a fantastic resource that’s just a phone call away and I’ve passed the contact details onto many interns. I’m sure they will make use of it often during their busy calls since they deal with complex cases and are still in training.
“Without it, everything will take much longer, especially queries on complicated cases. Since I first started using the hotline 10 years ago, I’ve felt reassured knowing that I have it at hand when I need it most.”
The MIC regularly develops and updates educational material to respond to healthcare workers’ HIV and TB information needs. For complicated clinical queries pharmacists have easy access to experienced HIV and TB specialists at UCT, Groote Schuur, Tygerberg Hospital and Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital.
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