WhatsApp platform causes revolution at Jinja Regional Hospital
The dynamic nature of technology especially over the last decade has ushered in a new era of communication. Social media platforms such as WhatsApp have turned out to be among the most used channels of communication in society and organisations. While attending our Preterm Birth Initiative (PTBi) study’s 4th Quality Improvement Learning session last week, the Director of Jinja Hospital Dr Edward Nkurunziza disclosed that his organisation is moving with the new trends and has a functional WhatsApp group which has turned around service delivery at the facility. Kakaire Ayub Kirunda caught up him to discuss the innovation at the facility. Following is an excerpt of the interview:
What inspired you to start up a WhatsApp ground at the hospital?
See, I am currently a student of MBA and one of the first course modules we did was on general management and we were talking about modern management of organisations. They taught us about an open organisation where the channels of communication should be open to everybody; Up-down, down-up, diagonal, horizontal so that if any staff of an organisation can stand up in public and talk about the organisation, it’s vision and mission so that the information about the organisation is known by everybody, that is an open organisation. So, I asked myself, how can I make the organisation open?’ and one of the responses was to make channels of communication open. I wanted to put in place a system where the top most person is accessible by anybody. It may be difficult to allow everyone to come to your office every time. So, I thought about that and opening channels like opening a WhatsApp group open to all staff.
I started off one platform while in Naguru [China-Uganda Friendship Hospital]. We agreed to air out any concern related to work not the funny jokes common with social media. It started working wonders, people were happy, drivers were saying ‘who I am I to be talking to the director?’ and have opportunity to express my opinion. It kind of motivated staff to feel that they are also listened to.
And even issues to do with internal customer care, the way departments and units relate to each other. You may find that one unit, let’s say a clinic or theatre is having its work being hampered by the laboratory. There could be a mother going to theatre, but the laboratory is closed, they can’t access blood. So, if this is only known by the two concerned units, the rest of the hospital will not know. However, if this is posted on to the forum everybody will start wondering what is happening to the laboratory people. Comments will come through and the laboratory people will be forced to give an explanation. And in a way people correct themselves. This forum has proved effective. Sometimes when information is shared on other platforms like notice boards very few see and respond. But this [WhatsApp] is real time.
Are there any recent classic case stories from Jinja?
One time there was an electricity shutdown. And the generator had no fuel. So, one staff member threw it on the platform and I immediately asked our administrator what was happening. That very night the Administrator went to the hospital and fixed the problem. But if nobody had shared that information the hospital could have gone the entire night in darkness. I make sure I read whatever is uploaded on the forum and respond. As for those which are not relevant and not related to work I may ignore.
But are staff members free from raising all the critical issues without rubbing you and their immediate supervisors the wrong way?
A good leader should not be feared. People should take your word and they are willing to fight for you. The people we lead are adults. We have power but there is always a limit to our powers. Even the president sometimes finds it hard to dismiss some civil servants. There are some limits put in place and there are processes that are followed. A leader must have buy-in and people should believe in you and be willing to follow you. And how do you make them follow you? First, you find that in our government setting the salaries are almost nothing, very minimal. So, you don’t have a lot of carrots to give. So, the best way to motivate them is to be part of them, be accessible to them, whatever complaint they bring, respond to them even if you don’t have what they want. They should feel that you listened to them, at least.
Do you think social media platforms like WhatsApp have a future in leadership and management?
I believe even the President of this country should use his more often. He should regularly engage the citizens using his social media platforms. I have seen some leaders who do this quite regularly. This way a leader can read the minds of people including those who may be opposed to their leadership. People have ideas. Some of these ideas that we implement are ideas we grab from the junior staff. So, it is a way forward and a tool for managing people. We are in leadership positions not because we are the most brilliant people in our organisations. There are people who have better ideas than us. Maybe they are yet to get the courage to take up the leadership mantle because it’s not easy to lead. You need a thick skin.
Some posts on WhatsApp can be irritating and irrelevant, how do you manage amidst those challenges?
We control it. First, when we set it up we had clear guidelines. We said this was a forum for work related issues and no politics. We don’t discuss politics on the forum. We don’t discuss religion on the forum as well. Things like Christians criticising Muslims and vice versa are not entertained. If one does it, we warn them and if they don’t take heed we suspend them temporarily. And when we bring them back they have usually sobered up. So, we make sure that there is no meandering aimlessly on the forum. And people have respected the platform.
Access to social media comes with a cost in terms of data charges, isn’t this a hindrance to many staff members?
Well, WhatsApp requires users to have smartphones and connectivity to the internet. Buying the phone is a one off but access to the internet is a recurring cost. Nonetheless, it is becoming cheaper. We could have a Wi-Fi network in the hospital and give limited access to staff. We shall look it that.