SA private hospitals step up tech efforts to fight COVID-19

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Three local private healthcare facilities are leveraging emerging technologies to improve efficiency and the quality of care delivered in fighting COVID-19.

Netcare Group,Mediclinic and Life Healthcare say they have stepped up their tech efforts to fight the coronavirus, utilising a variety of technologies, including artificial intelligence (AI),big data and machine learning.

The Department of Health has warned that the country’s coronavirus peak is expected in late August or early September. As of today, the total infection rate in SA stands at 159 333 cases, with recoveries at more than 76 025 and the death toll at 2 749.

Netcare Hospital has deployed isolation cubicles, advanced ventilators and continuous positive airway pressure machines across its hospitals. In addition, the JSE-listed hospital group, in March, rolled out germ-destroying robots, which use the latest technologies to assist in infection prevention and control within its hospital facilities.

“Both the Xenex pulsed ultraviolet (UV) robots and Yanex Pulsed-Xenon UV robots deployed in Netcare hospitals use high doses of UV light to destroy viruses, bacteria and fungal spores, and disinfect hospital wards, theatres and other spaces within minutes,” says Netcare Group CEO Dr Richard Friedland.

“Now, with the increase in the number of COVID-19 cases in SA, we are pleased to have opted to invest in innovations such as these germ-eradicating robots. Netcare currently has 28 robots operating at 22 sites, and will take delivery of a further 13 within the next couple of weeks.”

The robots, designed in Russia, work by emitting UV-C spectrum light, which destroys the DNA of bacteria, viruses and fungi, to neutralise them and prevent them from replicating. The system has the ability to destroy 99.90% of germs on high-touch surfaces and 99.99% of airborne germs, according to its developer, Xenex.

Each robot deployed is connected to the cloud and the robots generate full reports on all of their activities, which are stored in the cloud.

Mediclinic Group has introduced machine learning-based tools to offer instant COVID-19 screening for patients and staff.

The healthcare group says since the outbreak of COVID-19 in China in December 2019, its team of clinical governance specialists and ICT experts coordinated their efforts to offer additional innovative solutions to fight the spread of the virus in SA.

The hospital group’s COVID-19 disease online assessment portal helps patients and medical staff assess their risk of contracting and spreading the disease.

“The immediate focus was to assist with the volume of people who were presenting at Mediclinic Emergency Centres by giving them an option to assess themselves virtually,’ says Raymond Plotz, ICT executive, Mediclinic Southern Africa.

“We had a lot of interest in this initial assessment from many quarters and we realised we had an opportunity to assist further with online systems.”

Once someone’s information is captured into the tool and is flagged as being monitored, the system sends out an invitation to connect with a healthcare worker online. The real-time messaging platform is interfaced with a QR code system, which effectively authorises patients and staff members for entry in Mediclinic healthcare facilities, based on their assessment results.

“We’re currently investigating linking the system to a thermal camera, allowing us to automatically capture the body temperature of anyone presenting at the hospital,” notes Plotz.

The second largest private hospital operator in SA, Life Healthcare Group, last month introduced a COVID-19 risk management solution aimed at delivering employee wellness services remotely to local businesses.

Its technology division, Life Employee Health Solutions, built the Life RISK Solution, a health risk management software tool to help businesses reduce potential risks to employees and customers, through an aggregated risk surveillance capability.

It also offers individualised clinical and wellbeing support for employees via the Web app.

“Effective management of COVID-19 risk in the workplace demands specialist knowledge and an in-depth understanding of industry trends, clinical guidelines, fluid policies and compliance requirements. It’s critical for employers to have a trusted partner to help them navigate this,” says Tanya Little, group operations executive at Life Health Group.

The hospital group says it has also adopted locally-developed care coordination and messaging software platform Signapps across its hospitals to facilitate the management of critically ill patients.

Signapps is a mobile messenger and Web application that provides secure, compliant and user-friendly channels for medical professionals to collaborate and share confidential patient data and streamline the management of patient care anddelivery of treatment.

Last month, Life Healthcare Group was hit by a cyber attack incident, which was severe enough to force the healthcare firm to take its systems offline, in order to contain the attack.

TheJSE-listed group said it hired external cyber security experts and forensic teams “to advise and supplement internal teams and capacity”.

While it did not reveal the nature of the security breach, it said at the time that patient care was not impacted and it continued to provide quality healthcare across all of its hospitals and clinics.

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