Although access to quality healthcare is considered a basic human right, the South African healthcare sector is facing numerous challenges that impede the delivery of this essential service. The shortage of skilled doctors and nurses coupled with the rapidly growing economy and populations means that there are simply not enough providers for all of our citizens.
Hospitals are immensely complex facilities that require the interaction of various departments as well as primary and supporting services, yet these are often siloed and operate from manual, paper-based legacy practices. In addition, a lack of standardised processes, even within hospitals from the same group, can hinder the efficiency of consistent service delivery. IT has enormous potential to provide assistance, as an enabler for more integrated, efficient back-end services as well as a way to revolutionise healthcare delivery to all of our country’s citizens.
One of the biggest challenges facing the South African healthcare sector is an extreme skills shortage. The country has an average of only six doctors for every 10,000 citizens, well below the global average of 20 per 10,000 citizens. Economic growth has far exceeded the required growth of the number of healthcare professionals to support South African citizens in the last ten years. In addition, continued regulation restricts the number of nurses that are permitted to be trained, and the inflow of foreign professionals to counter the outflow of doctors is also restricted.
Challenges for new hospitals
New hospitals face the challenge not only of attracting and retaining talent but also typically make a loss in the first 18 months of operation. This is as a result of the high capital investment required for start-up, coupled with low bed occupancy as the hospital gains a patient base. Financial and clinical governance is another challenge, as manual, paper-based processes make proving auditable care an onerous task.
Managing these processes as well as the complexity of interactions between the various essential parts of a hospital is a costly, complicated and time-consuming task. Both the patient and the healthcare provider suffers as a result of the need to focus attention on back-end processes instead of patient care.
In addition to these current challenges, the imminent tabling of the National Health Insurance (NHI) white paper for approval is expected to bring about further uncertainty.
At the recent HASA conference, Minister of Health, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi was quoted saying, “We will need to change the way we deliver healthcare services. We need to change our business models”. The goal is to maximise the patient experience while simultaneously simplifying the life of the caregiver, and IT can play a critical role in enabling this. One area where IT can provide significant assistance is in improving efficiency and an appropriate level of governance. Hospitals need to comply not only with corporate, commercial and data governance (such as the Protection of Personal Information Act) requirements but also clinical governance relating to patient care.
Technology solutions can be implemented to digitise and automate processes, which immediately assists with improved efficiency and cost effectiveness, in a fully auditable and simplified manner. This also provides timely access to relevant information, speeding up and increasing the quality of decisions.
IT can also play a role in facilitating integrated care throughout the patient life-cycle, from pre-admission right through to discharge and home care. Every patient is unique, and monitoring a patient’s progress and response to treatment is essential throughout the recovery process. It is beneficial to have access to actionable and timely intelligence at all levels, from administrative functions through to patient-facing care, in order to enable improved decision-making. The more relevant information is available to caregivers on the patient, the better the care that can be provided.
Next-generation technology also has the potential to revolutionise the healthcare industry. Solutions like telemedicine or remote diagnosis utilise video conferencing technology that enables doctors to ‘treat’ patients outside of the hospital, helping to extend the number of patients they can assist without having to travel. This in turn will help to ease the skills gap.
The benefit of wearable devices
Wearable devices can also provide benefits. For example, devices that monitor a patient’s vital signs can be used to provide care following hospitalisation, and can alert the wearer if they should seek medical attention. These may sound like futuristic solutions, but they are available today, building on an integrated platform that simplifies the engagement between patient and caregiver.
Hospitals represent immensely complex logistical entities, made up of many privately owned divisions, departments and supplementary services. Imagine your day where these divisions work seamlessly together from a single, integrated platform, with all required information instantly available at all times and to all relevant stakeholders. Imagine the synergy, the efficiency and the financial and qualitative consequences. Imagine the improved patient experience. Imagine today.