When we think of pioneering solutions with the potential to save lives, resource optimisation and capacity building may not be the first areas of healthcare that come to mind. But the past three years have drawn much attention to the role of organisational efficiencies in keeping patients alive. In fact, with the right tools and technology in place, admin saves lives.
The pandemic stretched the healthcare sector across the Middle and Africa (MEA) beyond its limited capacity. As things stood before 2020, it was estimated that 400 million people in Africa had little or no access to healthcare. Similarly, more than 57 million people in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) needed humanitarian assistance before COVID-19 even began.
There is a great disparity in terms of how different countries in MEA have been able to cope during the crisis, with many nations challenged by a lack of hospital beds. In some instances, hospitals were unable to provide patients with the necessary care due to shortages in resources such as oxygen, resulting in devastating consequences.
But this is where data has a powerful role to play in transforming healthcare delivery.
Forward-looking companies can use data to enhance and optimise clinical, operational, and administrative efficiencies. By introducing AI and machine learning algorithms, they can predict patient flow for the coming month or week. This not only helps them foresee and prepare their capacity for peak periods, but also allows them to predict times when they are able to relieve their resources.
Planning around the unpredictable
Data-driven solutions are a game-changer, not just for hospitals, but for companies across the sector, including healthcare providers, payors, pharmaceutical companies and especially the supply chain.
Laboratories, for example, must enable complex materials handling, tracking and pricing for thousands of items. As patients’ lives may depend on their ability to test and deliver results quickly and efficiently, their support systems need to deliver the ability to order at the right price from the right organisation, receive stock into warehouses, and they must enable batch tracking and expiry date tracking in real time.
Mohammed Saleh, Health and Life Sciences Regional Lead at Microsoft Middle East & Africa
To cope with this level of complexity in supply chain management, Lancet Laboratories in South Africa migrated to Dynamics 365. Even amidst the unplanned increase in demand for the company’s services during the early months of the pandemic, the supply chain flexed and functioned as intended, accommodating sudden shifts in procurement, new demands on timelines, and the need for increased stock levels.
And the good news is that healthcare companies already have the huge amounts of data needed to drive such solutions. Combined with the right tools and platforms, the wealth of data they possess can help the healthcare sector solve many of the other trials brought to the fore by the pandemic – and not only challenges in operational efficiency, but in clinical efficiency as well.
Improving access and outcomes
If a patient needs to undergo an X-ray or CT scan, for example, they will have it done at the nearest hospital. Thereafter, the assisting technician will wait on a radiologist to come to the hospital and read the image to make a diagnosis.
Through the practice of teleradiology, however, a radiologist from any location can examine the image and create their diagnosis in a digital format without physically having to travel. This creates a significant timesaving for the specialist who would otherwise need to commute between one or many hospitals. And they can use the time saved to make a greater number of diagnoses.
Thanks to telemedicine, a much broader pool of patients in the region can access a higher quality of healthcare more easily.
In South Africa for example, healthcare companies are increasingly using HoloLens 2 to facilitate remote consultations between experts and the healthcare sector. By enabling the physical and digital worlds to co-exist and interact in real time, the mixed reality solution is unlocking significant opportunity for companies to augment the jobs of first-line employees.
Solutions such as health bots are also enabling patients to access expertise in everything from diagnosis, to triage and symptom-checking, as well as general medical information and recommendations. In the midst of the pandemic, UAE-based health insurance company, Daman, collaborated with Microsoft to deploy the Daman Health Bot. The AI-powered tool is a great example of a solution that assists patients to conduct self-assessment on symptoms and guide them to the appropriate level of care.
During COVID-19, the ability to merge different tools and platforms helped many healthcare companies like Daman reimagine their operations overnight. And the technology required to respond with this level of adaptability is becoming increasingly sophisticated. In fact, it was just recently that Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare was launched, bringing together all Microsoft’s tools, technology and platforms, from templates to accelerators, machine learning, AI, and beyond, into one industry-tailored solution.
The last three years have dramatically accelerated the urgency of existing healthcare challenges in MEA, whether it be the ability to provide distributive delivery of care, real-time-from-anywhere access, or healthcare across any device. But the pandemic also catalysed a lasting change in the way healthcare companies respond to these challenges by drawing on data.
The data available to healthcare companies is infinite. And the question is no longer “why” data – but how to gather, store and make sense of data in a way that creates value quickly, drives innovation and, ultimately, saves lives.