As Head of Solutions at Med-e-Mass & MediSwitch, businesses that focus specifically on healthcare IT and e-commerce, I believe that the market for e-health services in Africa has been growing steadily for the past five years, with some parts of the continent having adopted SMS as a means to roll out public health initiatives early on.
The growth in such services is visible in both the private and public sectors, and is driven by the increase in broadband access and the concomitant decrease in price. The increasing availability of applications and smartphones is also playing a part in driving further e-health growth.
This, in turn, leads to increasing benefits to both patients and healthcare organisations. For the providers, technology enables effective e-records, including patient information, lab results and care plans for patients with chronic conditions. This means that a doctor checking such records is made fully aware of previous and current ailments and treatments.
As far as individuals go, patient-based applications allow people to become more involved in looking after their personal health. Access to relevant information empowers patients to take ownership of their conditions, such as in diabetes cases, where patients can now monitor blood glucose levels, weight and calorie intake. There is also a move towards social media, with individuals engaging with other patients who have the same conditions.
Ultimately, technology is helping to close the loop between the patient, the healthcare provider and the medical aid funder. This is being driven by increasing volumes of data, coupled to advanced analytic techniques. Healthcare professionals can now extrapolate more knowledge from this information, thereby making better decisions, managing costs more effectively and being able to treat patients earlier and more effectively – thus reducing the number of expensive hospitalisations.
The biggest challenge facing large-scale implementation of e-health services, however, lies in interoperability. Different players in the field have different systems, and these do not always talk to one another.
Fortunately, the South African National Department of Health has set up the Health Normative Standards Framework (HNSF) in conjunction with the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), which lays out the ground rules for interoperability and should help to integrate health enterprise standards.
With these clearly defined rules, we will be in a position where any application related to e-health in South Africa will need to be compliant with the HNSF. Once true interoperability is achieved, an increasing number of disparate e-health systems will be able to securely share healthcare information more effectively.
As for Med-e-Mass& MediSwitch, our companies have recognised e-health as a huge growth area and as such, has made significant investments in respect of both applications and resources. We expect to see a huge upward trajectory in terms of the usage of e-health systems, encompassing applications, security and analytics, to name a few. Each of these areas offers opportunities and our company is putting a lot of effort and resources into developing solutions for the future.
This is a really exciting time for e-health care in South Africa and across the continent. We believe we will have a key role to play in this space as things move forward.
Dilip Naran is a Speaker at the Healthcare Management Conference at the 2018 Africa Health Exhibition & Congress scheduled to be held from 29th to 31st May in Johannesburg, South Africa.