Software and services company DVT is helping the innovative team at Vula Mobile to provide quality medical care to rural and remote patients with a range of software testing and test automation services for the award-winning Vula Mobile smartphone app.
The brainchild of Dr William Mapham, a registrar at the ophthalmology department of Tygerberg Hospital in Cape Town, Vula is a unique application that directly connects health workers in rural and remote areas in South Africa with specialist doctors at regional and urban hospitals.
Initially launched for ophthalmologists in 2014, the success of the app quickly caught the attention of medical professionals in other disciplines, and the app was expanded to include cardiology, orthopaedics and burns in 2016. It now features 11 specialities, with more on the way. DVT was approached late last year to help the company troubleshoot and optimise the app as it continues to grow.
“One of the biggest healthcare challenges facing South Africa – and other developing countries around the world – is access to specialist healthcare in rural and remote areas,” says Vula product manager Debré Barrett.
“People with critical medical conditions and emergencies living outside our major urban hubs have to travel many hours to see a specialist doctor, and in some cases, those journeys could have been avoided with simple advice from the specialist,” says Barrett.
“Primary healthcare workers in rural and underserved areas can provide the best care for their patients when they have quick access to help from a specialist. This is the problem Vula set out to solve and has been addressing successfully for the past few years. It’s important that as we grow the functionality and scope of our software, we are able to maintain its performance and quality, especially given the critical nature of the application.”
Barrett says she was first made aware of DVT and its Global Testing Centre by a colleague in the technology industry.
“After an initial consultation that mapped out what we needed, the DVT team set up automated test scripts for the software in our development environment, and since then we’ve been able to quickly and effectively diagnose any performance or functionality issues before they could impact our users.”
Izak Burger, account manager at DVT, says the role of software testing and test automation is often underestimated by app developers, to the detriment of their software, business and service.
“Not only is it necessary to test an application throughout its development and before launch, but it’s also even more important to continue testing the app as it evolves with new features and functions over time,” says Burger. “This applies in particular to mission-critical apps like Vula, where people’s lives can depend on its flawless functionality.”
Since its initial deployment, Vula has seen a consistent 25% of patients who are referred by the app being treated at the primary facility with specialist advice. Doctors working in primary healthcare say the app saves them a lot of time.
“Once a health worker fills in the information in the app, a message is sent to the relevant specialist on call, and within minutes he or she can make a decision on the level of care required,” Barrett explains.
“In around one-quarter of cases, the patient can be treated by the primary health worker with the advice of the specialist, saving the time and cost it would have otherwise taken for the patient to physically see the specialist. If the patient is not critical and the specialist decides a consult is necessary, they can set up an appointment for a later date, saving the patient time and travel cost.
“Having quantified the benefits of the app, it’s incumbent on us to continue maintaining and improving it to ensure we can consistently deliver the same level of care, not only as we add more doctors and disciplines, but also as we start to roll out the app to more regions, and possibly to other countries.”
DVT CEO Jaco van der Merwe says working with Vula has also helped DVT’s social upliftment efforts by giving its Learnership and Internship staff access to a time-critical project that directly benefits their communities.
“Every year we take on dozens of previously disadvantaged aspiring learners and university graduates wanting to build a career in software testing and development through the DVT Learnership and DVT Internship programs at the GTC,” says Van der Merwe. “The Vula project is a perfect example of how we can benefit our client and our interning staff by giving staff exposure to real-world projects and giving the client – Vula – access to additional resources without any additional outlay.”
Barrett concurs: “I’m glad to say that since starting to work with the team at DVT, we’ve ironed out some kinks in the software before they ever surfaced in the live app.”