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Blood delivering drones, smart lockers dispensing medicine, at-home apps that detect melanoma – the future of healthcare is underpinned by the cloud

Johannesburg, 23 Nov 2021
Read time 5min 30sec

Thinking about innovation and cloud computing in South African healthcare, three specific examples stand out at present:

Firstly, the South African National Blood Service (SANBS) is expected to launch its emergency drone delivery services soon, pending Civil Aviation Authority approval, marking yet another milestone in tech-driven healthcare progress in South Africa. First announced in 2019, the SANBS will deploy TRON unmanned aerial vehicles to transport blood to hospitals in remote areas in cases of emergency, slashing the time taken to get life-saving blood to patients. 

Secondly, taking life-saving healthcare to isolated and remote areas, Right ePharmacy has developed Pharmacy Dispensing Units (PDUs) in partnerships with USAID and the National Department of Health (NDoH), to address last-mile delivery of chronic medication to patients across the country.

Powered by the AWS cloud, users can conveniently collect their chronic medication through an ATM-styled dispensing unit or receive SMS reminders to collect their medicines from the smart locker at a location that is convenient to them and reduce their transportation costs in doing so.

And, another incredible innovator, SkinVision, is also an AWS partner, and uses technology to facilitate the early detection of melanoma. SkinVision has developed an app that allows people to scan their bodies in their own homes and have the pictures assessed by SkinVision’s machine learning-based algorithms in just 30 seconds. After this, qualified dermatologists examine the image to control accuracy. The algorithm’s accuracy rate is now at more than 90%.

Cloud underpins progress

The success of innovations such as these depend on secure, compliant and scalable cloud services, and the cloud is delivering measurable value and enabling innovations previously impossible, says Jean Pierre Horne, Head of Healthcare at AWS. “Cloud is facilitating unprecedented collaboration and efficiency, to make healthcare more patient-centric and cost-effective,” he explains.

“As we look across further into the future to digitally enhanced healthcare, we can group the transformation into three categories: IT cloud transformation, predicting healthcare relevant events, and personalising the healthcare experience.”

Locally, South Africa’s digital transformation and journey to the cloud is well under way: last year’s AWS and ITWeb Cloud Survey found the South African healthcare sector is either already using the cloud or planning to move to cloud in the next six to 12 months. The key business drivers include accessible clinical systems and data from any location securely, reducing the time to market for new innovations, improving regulatory compliance and improving security posture by eliminating cyber security attacks.

AWS for Health cloud services are perfectly position to address these business drivers in the provision of 16 purpose-built healthcare services in healthcare, biopharma and genomics solutions available to customers such as Electronic Medical Records (EMR), diagnostic medical imaging, telemedicine, and health and disease prediction, says Horne.

Interconnectedness for patient-centricity

Patient-centricity has also become a priority in this changing environment, he says. “Research has found that 64% of patients use a mobile device to manage some aspect of their healthcare and 92% would like access to their own medical records. The number of patients who would be comfortable using telehealth solutions has risen from 11% to 76% in the first half of 2020. There is a demand from patients for digital healthcare. But, digital healthcare requires clinical systems to be interoperable and connected.”

An example of this is Medscheme’s EMR application, which is based on AWS reference architecture for sharing information between providers and patients. A2D24, an Amazon Partner, has formed a joint venture with private hospital group Netcare that will focus on driving digital modernisation, with a focus on patient engagement innovation. This joint venture is called Netcare Digital.

Horne adds: “New digital experiences in the form of mobile, web and cloud-based contact centre applications are needed to engage patients and citizens in their healthcare journey.

"Machine learning and AI to help automate tasks and improve data analysis, and also enable more natural language processing interaction such as using voice, text and intelligent chat bots services. Above all, innovation is required at a more rapid pace than ever before. The depth and breadth of AWS services in all of these areas, with the agility it provides, accelerates the development of new ideas and solutions and then rapidly deploy them on secure and scalable cloud infrastructure,” Horne explains.

Faster health innovation

The cloud also enables faster change, response and innovation, Horne notes.

“For example, in just three days, APN partner A2D24 in South Africa was able to develop and deploy an automated digital communications platform for a private hospital group, to inform anyone who has been in one of their hospitals of possible exposure to a confirmed COVID-19 patient.

“One of the best examples we have seen of an organisation moving at a rapid pace to support citizens was the work of Comune di Codogno, an Italian municipality in Lombardy. This was the region of Italy where COVID-19 cases first originated. Using Amazon Connect, the municipality built a virtual call centre in a matter of days to help route calls directly to municipality staff, helping to quickly answer citizens’ questions on the pandemic.

“Thanks to our three in-country availability zones and shared security model, the AWS Cloud enables the security, compliance and data sovereignty that local healthcare providers need, while our purpose-built health-specific solutions accelerate innovation.”

With 16 focused healthcare solutions for healthcare, biopharma and genomics, AWS for Health is helping both the public and private sector transform healthcare service delivery, research and therapeutics value chains.

“The value of cloud is illustrated in areas such as improved productivity, operational resilience and business agility. The cloud reduces IT infrastructure spend by around 27%, reduces annual downtime by over 56% and decreases time to market for new applications by around 37%, for example,” he says.

AWS will host a webinar on technology-enabled healthcare delivery, exploring the ways in which the South African health sector is employing cloud and other technologies to enhance service delivery. For more information about AWS for health, visit

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