Many clinics in Southern Africa have long waiting times. The implementation of point-of-care (POC) tests to accelerate diagnosis and improve clinical management in resource-limited settings may improve or worsen clinic flow and waiting times. The objective of this study was to describe clinic flow with special emphasis on the impact of POC testing at a large urban public healthcare clinic in Durban, South Africa.
We used time and motion methods to directly observe patients and practitioners. We created patient flow maps and recorded individual patient waiting and consultation times for patients seeking STI, TB, or HIV care. We conducted semi-structured interviews with 20 clinic staff to ascertain staff opinions on clinic flow and POC test implementation.
Among 121 observed patients, the total number of queues ranged from 4 to 7 and total visit times ranged from 0:14 (hours:minutes) to 7:38. Patients waited a mean of 2:05 for standard-of-care STI management, and approximately 4:56 for STI POC diagnostic testing. Stable HIV patients who collected antiretroviral therapy refills waited a mean of 2:42 in the standard queue and 2:26 in the fast-track queue. A rapid TB test on a small sample of patients with the Xpert MTB/RIF assay and treatment initiation took a mean of 6:56, and 40% of patients presenting with TB-related symptoms were asked to return for an additional clinic visit to obtain test results. For all groups, the mean clinical assessment time with a nurse or physician was 7 to 9 min, which accounted for 2 to 6% of total visit time. Staff identified poor clinic flow and personnel shortages as areas of concern that may pose challenges to expanding POC tests in the current clinic environment.
This busy urban clinic had multiple patient queues, long clinical visits, and short clinical encounters. Although POC testing ensured patients received a diagnosis sooner, it more than doubled the time STI patients spent at the clinic and did not result in same-day diagnosis for all patients screened for TB. Further research on implementing POC testing efficiently into care pathways is required to make these promising assays a success.