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Netcare accelerates telemedicine as COVID-19 hits revenue

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SA’s largest private healthcare provider, Netcare, is accelerating its telemedicine efforts after suffering a severe financial knock as result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Netcare yesterday said it took a R143 million hit in lost revenue in March due to the disruption caused by COVID-19.

The company’s operating profit for the six months ended March also declined 0.6% to R1.7 billion, compared to the same time last year.

Netcare said acute hospital patient days for the month of April 2020 declined by 49.5%, compared to April 2019, with occupancy levels at 32.6% (April 2019: 65%). Mental health patient days in April 2020 declined by 63.3% against the comparative period.

Equally, Netcare 911 experienced a slowdown in emergency cases during the lockdown, while the impact on cancer care and renal care services was less severe.

“Within the Primary Care division, general practitioner patient visits declined approximately 50% from pre-COVID-19 levels, while the South African Dental Association’s prohibition on non-emergency dental work saw a decline of approximately 67% in dental visits. To date, 643 COVID-19 positive patients have been treated in Netcare acute hospitals, sub-acute facilities and Medicross clinics,” said Netcare.

According to Netcare, the COVID-19 pandemic severely impacted its activities, especially in April, and it is now scaling up investments in telemedicine.

Globally, telemedicine has proved invaluable in the management of the deadly virus, with many governments and healthcare systems advocating for digital healthcare tools and virtual consults to be the first step and primary means of healthcare support during the COVID-19 outbreak.

In SA, industry experts have in recent week been advocating for the digitisation of healthcare and streamlining things like dispensing medication, patient intake, record sharing, patient tracking and treatment.

Yesterday, Netcare said telemedicine enables clinicians to continue providing care and virtual consultations to patients without exposing themselves, their patients and staff at the facilities to avoidable risks.

“In a post-COVID-19 world, the adoption of telemedicine is likely to grow and to this end, Netcare has developed an innovative telemedicine solution,” it said.

Netcare said its solution is accessible through any modern Web browser and allows for a dial-in option for patients who don’t have access to data.

“The solution is currently being deployed in Medicross and will be completed by the end of May 2020, although this is only partially expected to soften the impact of lower overall general practitioner patient visits in H2 2020. The platform will be rolled out to our hospital specialists in June 2020, and to Akeso and Netcare Occupational Health in July 2020.”

As COVID-19 escalates, more technologically-driven healthcare solutions are preferred, with new options being deployed.

Vodacom and Discovery recently announced a partnership to deliver what they call “a simple but powerful online healthcare platform for the benefit of all South Africans during the COVID-19 pandemic”.

According to the companies, “this platform provides easy access for all South Africans to a COVID-19 risk tool, to help understand your personal risk for COVID-19, plus, where needed, to immediately schedule virtual healthcare professional consultations and get advice”.

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