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Int J Health Plann Manage. 1993 Oct-Dec;8(4):315-24.

Crowded outpatient departments in city hospitals of developing countries: a case study from Lesotho.

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Queen Elizabeth the Second Hospital, Ministry of Health, Maseru, Lesotho.


'Overuse' of hospital outpatient departments in urban areas of developing countries is perceived as a problem by many health planners. The World Health Organization is promoting advanced health centres, or 'reference centres', as part of a strategy to develop urban health systems and to reduce primary contact care at hospitals. However, hospital-based information to assist city health service planning is limited in many countries. This study examined user characteristics, patient flow and prescribing quality at the national referral hospital in Maseru, Lesotho, using simple and replicable methods. The study found that most users were self-referred and came from the city. The majority of respondents were aware of their local health centre but reported they would normally use the hospital when they were ill. Examination of patient flow showed that, on average, patients spent a total of 3.7 h waiting. Quality of care was compromised by a tendency to over-prescribe, particularly antibiotics and sedatives. The study suggests that in Maseru, the perception of 'overuse' is due to congestion and that improved patient flow management will reduce the numbers of patients waiting. Quality of care could be strengthened by regular audit of prescribing practices by clinicians in the hospital.

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