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MED BRIEF AFRICA While technological advances in healthcare have the potential to become a massive game changer in the way healthcare service are delivered, healthcare professionals’ fear that it could reduce their role in providing care and impact on their earnings, and regulatory limitations are hampering optimal implementation in South Africa. This was one of the messages coming out of this week’s Business Dialogue on the future of healthcare hosted by Life Healthcare and Business Day in Johannesburg. Conceding that advancements in healthcare technology could drive the provision of more accessible, better quality healthcare services at a reduced cost, Deputy Director-general for NHI in the Department of Health, Dr Anban Pillay cited issues such as a lack of infrastructure and connectivity, outdated regulation and some healthcare providers’ belief that it could make them redundant, as some of the obstacles impeding the rollout of new technologies. He cited the current implementation of a patient registration system in the state sector, e-scripting, ATM pharmacies and the introduction of pill-packing robots in some government hospital pharmacies as examples where technology is already making a big difference in streamlining healthcare services in the public sector. “Where it is possible, there are huge opportunities. However, we will need to find a way of convincing all role players of the benefits and take them along in the decisions to prevent those who are benefitting from the current system and who are reluctant to embrace new technology from creating obstacles to implementation,” Dr Pillay said. Life Healthcare CEO, Dr Shrey Viranna noted that South Africa is still stuck in the “paradigm of brick and mortar” that is not needed to implement innovative technologies. There is also a need to relax regulation that prevents the implementation of services such as virtual consultations and the use of non-clinical skills to augment those of physicians such as radiologists, enabling them to diagnose and triage patients remotely. Axel Bauer, Senior Partner of McKinsey and Company’s Hong Kong office cited technological developments in the areas of Artificial Intelligence (AI)-based diagnostics and molecular biology such as liquid biopsy as some of the biggest advances in detecting diseases much earlier and with more precision. He pointed out the advantages of digital platforms such as the “GoodDoctor” application developed in China that gives more than 400 million people access to 24/7, online consultations which are supported by systems that allow patients who need emergency care to quickly access services. In addition, so-called mini-clinics have been introduced where patients can access machine-driven imaging services that allow them to be scanned without the presence of a healthcare professional to establish whether they need to see a physician. However, he cautioned that without end-to-end online-off-line systems that ensure continuity of care, the advantages of these technologies won’t be achieved. Referring to South Africa’s dire shortage of doctors, Accenture CEO, Vukani Mngxati, emphasised the huge role mobile digital technologies can play in expanding healthcare services to rural areas. “As the country is going through health reforms such as the NHI, we have an absolute opportunity to put the basics in place that will allow us to “leapfrog” existing technologies and introduce new technologies to the advantage of the millions of patients who still don’t have access to a doctor,” Mngxati said. According to Dr Pillay, regulation should be dynamic and move to accommodate new technologies but that it requires evidence that it is affordable and will provide the right outcomes and broaden access. “We need to ensure that everyone understands where we are going, especially those who see innovation as an obstacle. If we don’t, it could create a culture of fearmongering, causing a negative spiral of resistance,” Dr Pillay said, citing the example of ATM-dispensing pharmacies that took more than 18 months to get the approval of the Pharmacy Council because of a perception that it could leave pharmacists without jobs. Panelists concluded that the private sector, healthcare providers, funders and regulators should work together in ensuring that the opportunities new technologies can bring are achieved in a way that is patient-focused while allowing for healthy competition.
Created at 2019/03/18 02:18 PM by Mediclinic
Last modified at 2019/03/18 02:18 PM by Mediclinic