Basic challenges to be overcome for digital healthcare ideal

Johannesburg, 02 Dec 2021
Read time 4min 10sec

While digital innovations continue to improve healthcare service delivery, there are still certain basic challenges left to be overcome before South Africa can benefit from an optimised digital healthcare environment.

This is according to experts who participated in a webinar on technology-enabled healthcare delivery, hosted by Amazon Web Services (AWS), in collaboration with ITWeb.

Among the hurdles, the panellists cited broadband access, standardisation and integration of disparate health systems and data formats, and a lack of consistent collaboration across the public and private health sectors. 

Mediclinic International Group General Manager for Digital Transformation Dr Julian Fleming said: “Everyone understands what we want to achieve for healthcare sector in South Africa, but we could do better in terms of how we collaborate and avoid duplicating technology, effort and cost to achieve the end goal. The proliferation of technologies and applications is adding complexity to an already complex and fragmented environment.”

The National Health Department’s Chief Director for Policy Coordination and Integrated Planning, Milani Wolmarans, said standardisation and integration would be key to the success of efforts to integrate healthcare information systems.

CareConnect Chief Technology Officer Dr Rolan Christian said: “The segregation of data, and duplication and replication of solutions is a challenge. At CareConnect, we are trying to address one of these challenges by harmonising platforms for an integrated view of data.” 

Wesley Solomon, Technical Assistant Support for the NHI and a member of the EVDS team, said: “We can’t look at moving to the next level of digitally enabled healthcare without sufficient consistent broadband access. We also need the necessary standards and use cases in place.”

AWS Head of Healthcare for Sub-Saharan Africa, Jean Pierre Horne, said: “We see the fostering of public-private partnerships as key to addressing a lot of those challenges. The real benefits are realised when we harness the power of collaboration and create industry forums for organisations to come together and share and learn from one other.”

He continued: “This is how we bridge the gap elsewhere in the world, for example in the UK, where the UK National Health Services (NHS) has created partnerships with technology providers and product manufacturers to leverage technology to address challenges. With the advent of NHI in South Africa, we should be speaking to UK authorities and taking the lessons learned through their implementation of a universal healthcare system for all.”

Overcoming challenges through cloud-enabled innovation

The cloud is helping innovators address some of the key basic challenges, panellists said.

Polls of webinar participants found that 61% were not using cloud services in the provision of healthcare, with a lack of skills cited as the biggest challenge in using cloud services in the healthcare market. Exactly 50% of respondents said not having the required skills to operate cloud services was a challenge, while 16% felt cloud was too expensive to run and maintain. Another 16% said data residence and compliance were an issue, and a further 16% said lack of accessibility and control of systems and data was a challenge. On the question of which healthcare systems they would look to take to the cloud, 57% said Infrastructure (compute, storage, network and databases), 15% said virtual patient care services, 10% said electronic medical records, a further 10% said health data analytics, and 5% said telemedicine solutions.

Dr Christian said: “For CareConnect, going cloud first shortened our time to deploy, implement and go live with our solutions. By partnering with AWS – which has all the necessary skills – and using their knowledge and solutions, we were able to innovate faster.”

Dr Fleming said: “Building on a solid core information system has been critical for the success of our digital programme. This is the foundation for collecting the data and making sure we can do something with it. The cloud is making a difference and has enabled a move from large, complex monolithic systems to composable systems that solve specific problems. This is a more flexible approach that allows us to adapt quickly.”

Solomon said his team was also using the cloud to support an agile approach. “We are taking an iterative approach starting with a minimum viable product, and this is proving very successful. Our mindset is always on enterprise architecture approach with a distributed model for information gathering, and then bringing it together for analysis. We use the cloud in a hybridised model for patient data security, and depend on the cloud for the ability to scale,” said Solomon.

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