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South African healthcare industry and digital transformation


Johannesburg, 09 Sep 2020
Read time 4min 30sec
Philip Lavers, CEO, Open Architecture Systems
Philip Lavers, CEO, Open Architecture Systems

The South African healthcare industry is based on a two-tiered system, namely the public sector – primarily supported by the government, and the private health sector – based on a health-for-profit system.

Public health services are divided into primary, secondary and tertiary health facilities that are managed by the provincial departments of health. The provincial departments are thus the direct employers of the health workforce, while the National Ministry of Health is responsible for policy development and co-ordination. The public healthcare serves over 84% of the population.

Overall, the public healthcare system has been fraught with gross mismanagement of hospitals, a massive migration of skilled professionals either to the private section or to other countries and, in spite of government spending close to 10% of GDP on healthcare, the majority of facilities within the public sector are hopelessly underfunded and are extremely ill-equipped to offer any acceptable level of healthcare.

This two-tiered system poses challenges for the country. Firstly, collecting and managing patient data overall is virtually impossible for public healthcare. Secondly, the future in collecting data is via “wearables”, namely a device that collects user data daily, ie, a wristwatch that collects heartbeats, blood pressure, etc. This data holds valuable information for medical aids, insurance and, to some degree, statisticians or AI planning for demographics. However, it does not really feed into an acute healthcare provider, whether it is public or private. Most, if not all, service providers will be collecting this data based on a “fee” that is outside the reach of most, and secondly, targets a healthcare condition and/or overall wellness management solution. Again, it does not feed into an overall acute healthcare objective.

It’s important to note that the private sector also has its own set of challenges in creating a unified digital transformation platform. For example, medical schemes – the primary method of payment for patients using private healthcare/hospitalisation – have fragmented the private healthcare sector owing to the “contracted in/out” system adopted by the medical schemes. For a patient to realise the benefits or cover offered by their chosen medical aid, they need to abide by the organisations and practitioners contracted by the scheme. If, however, the patients use facilities outside of the scheme’s mandated providers, they can incur additional cost, which can be extremely high.

Therefore, in light of the above, a closer look at what digital transformation can offer may be worth investigating as organisations within industries, such as banking and finance, media, manufacturing and the like, that have implemented transformation are already reaping the benefits.

In a discussion with Philip Lavers, CEO of Open Architecture Systems, he highlights challenges faced by organisations in the healthcare industry and offers insights as how to solve them.

Lavers says: “The distribution of hospitals and clinics throughout the country in both urban and rural areas is a primary challenge in the development of a centralised data and processing centre. In addition, clinics in the more rural areas can experience connectivity problems, further emphasising the need to move to a more centralised data-based centre using cloud-based technologies.”

He also notes: “Each hospital or clinic requires skills, hardware, management and networks within each operational area. Thus, centralising certain functions such as call centre operations, help desk and administrative functions and procurement will reduce the number of operational staff required, alleviate the burden on network management, reduce bandwidth usage and free up resources to allow each hospital or clinic to focus on its primary mission in offering high quality care.”

Organisations in the healthcare industry that have streamlined their networks and implemented centralised data centres have seen immediate benefits: not only do they reduce their network traffic across the WAN, they also reduce the number of calls by up to a third.

In addition, he states: “Centralisation means that global software updates happen within weeks and not months. Asset tracking is improved, security is improved, and even theft of devices is reduced, saving on insurance and replacement costs. Finally, the organisations are able to reduce departmental overheads by consolidating most functions centrally – decreasing the reporting time for data at month-end.”

Lavers finishes off by emphasising: “The model works, but management needs to drive the process – otherwise pockets of ‘exceptions’ exist. If an application cannot be centralised then hard decisions need to be taken to replace it. However, using the cloud is the only way to truly centralise any network.

“With so many different options in the cloud, we may be decentralising where the applications live. Ultimately, the primary aim is to streamline the WAN, enhance user experience thus increasing productivity, reduce unnecessary costs and infrastructure abuse, centralise network management and controls and, most importantly, use zero trust security protocols – removing the burden on user device security.” 

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