A qualitative assessment of the referral system at district level in Zimbabwe: implications on efficiency and effective delivery of health services.
Authors: Hongoro C,Musonza TG,Macq J,Anozie A,
Address: Blair Research Institute, Harare, Zimbabwe.
Journal: Cent Afr J Med.
Publication: 1998 Apr;44(4):93-7.
To qualitatively assess the referral system at district level from the consumers' point of view and assess implications it had on efficiency and effectiveness of service delivery.
Districts of Tsholotsho and Murewa.
Subjects of the study included community members, ward health team members outpatient department (OPD).
The nature and magnitude of the problem; health seeking behaviour; the perceived role of a hospital versus a health centre; knowledge on the referral system; user fees and the referral system and communication between the service and the community; and perceptions on the referral system.
The community does not know the functional differences between a hospital and a clinic. What is clearly known is the physical differences that exist between the two. That is one of the reasons why the choice of a point of entry into the health care delivery system is not always correct. People do understand the mechanics of referring a patient to higher levels of care but they were not happy with the high hospital charges. Although the majority are eligible for free treatment the issues of high transport and other indirect costs were mentioned. There is no effective communication system between the service and the users. This manifested itself through the lack of knowledge or the existence and role of ward health teams or clinic committees. This lack of communication seems to be a major determinant in the failures of many a good policy. The impact of the new fee structure of January 1994 was minimal at district level because the communities felt that although referred patients do not pay hospital consultation fees, once admitted the patient still has to pay or at least prove that he/she is eligible for free services. The inconvenience of proving eligibility for free care still exists.
In general, the community did not fully comprehend the purposes and intentions of the new user fees policy of January 1994 which was meant to rationalise the referral system. Generally, communities are seldom consulted in time to ensure effective policy implementation and realisation of the intended impact. Impressions generated on the impact of the problem of the referral system on resource use at hospital level show that it has been considerable, although this study did not quantify it. Unnecessary overloading of referral centres negatively affected the care of referral cases, which actually required hospital care, due to competition with primary care cases.
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