By Charndré Emma Kippie
Digital Transformation in Healthcare
The last two years have proven that innovative digital ways of working in healthcare are constantly improving outcomes for patients. Thus, the world is witnessing an increase in global health equity, especially during this unforeseen Covid-19 era, and South Africa is no exception.
Tech Empowerment On The Rise
South African healthcare dynamics have been dramatically affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. Prior to the pandemic, the country saw a skills shortage in the sector, low patient coverage, disempowerment and issues surrounding accessibility. Though there are multiple explanations for this, the reality is that the pandemic amplified these concerns.
More than 8 million (under 14%) of the 59 million estimated population, in South Africa, invest in medical aid. This means that the rest of the population lacks private health cover. This, combined with high unemployment rates that have been worsened due to Covid -9, has indicated that there is a huge burden being exerted on the state to make provisions for quality healthcare to cover the majority of the population.
The current condition of our healthcare sector is a clear indication that we need interventions. This is why digital transformation is trending in the sector as of late – tech-empowerment is the future of healthcare.
Quality Smart Healthcare
The sector has seen new adaptations of tech equipment in the form of digital, wearable devices, facial recognition properties, smart medication prescriptions, the implementation of robotics, and even medical 3D printing. These technological innovations are actively enhancing the quality of healthcare in South Africa’s historically low diagnostic environment.
These advancements will, in time, allow for speedy intervention and more optimistic health outcomes. With more investment and funding, we will see more and more citizens become active users of digital healthcare services. We’re already seeing smartphones and apps create better accessibility. However, we’ve still got a long way to go in ensuring access for all.
Patient Care, Anyway
The Covid-19 pandemic has bolstered interest in the adoption of virtual care. Virtual care makes receiving consultations and healthcare easier, as patients can receive care closer to home, and even from the comfort of their own homes. Virtual care resolves issues of access for individuals who have not had access to a health provider, within a reasonable radius, in previous years. We do, however, need to invest in better technology infrastructure and assist in limiting data costs. This is where partnerships between telecommunication companies and healthcare investors should be encouraged.
We are seeing a drive towards streamlined electronic health records systems, which has resulted in great advancements in health outcomes. Policy-driven interventions, in this regard, will need to be prioritised to maintain impeccable digital data standards and efficient technological infrastructure. The privacy of patients will also need to be protected, and will need continuous monitoring. The key to data-driven decision making is making sure that the correct data is transferred to the right clinician to make the best decision. Data-driven decisions have allowed us to leverage historical and new data to inform process enhancement strategies, incorporate data into our workflows and impact value in the eyes of the patient.
The National Digital Health Strategy for South Africa (2019 – 2024)
The National Digital Health Strategy for South Africa was announced in 2019. At the core of The National Digital Health Strategy for South Africa, is the vision of ‘Better Health for all South Africans enabled by person-centred Digital Health’. The strategy aims to:
- Benefit patients who need access to healthcare services
- Assist healthcare workers with providing better services
- Aid health system managers with fulfilling their roles
- Empower all South African citizens to better manage their personal health utilising digital technologies.
The strategy is underpinned by five strategic principles:
- A person-centred focus
- Expanded access
- Innovation for sustainable impact
- Digital health workforce for economic development
- A whole-of government approach
Digital Health in South African Health Systems
The strategic thrust for digital health, by The National Digital Health Strategy for South Africa (2019 – 2024), is to support and enable the health sector vision of “A long and healthy life for all South Africans”. Stipulated targets are as follows:
- A life expectancy rate of at least 70 years for men and women
- A generation of under-20s largely free of HIV
- A reduced quadruple burden of disease
- An infant mortality rate of less than 20 deaths per thousand live births and under-five mortality rate of less than 30 deaths per thousand live births
- A significant shift in equity, efficiency, effectiveness and quality of healthcare provision UHC achieved
- A significant reduction in the risks caused by the social determinants of disease and adverse ecological factors
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