Category: Expert Opinion

The Digital Nurse: Redefining the Future of Healthcare in South Africa

Sandra Sampson, Director at Allmed

By Sandra Sampson, Director at Allmed

The South African healthcare landscape is undergoing a transformative shift, driven by the rapid advancement of technology. At the forefront of this change is the rise of the “digital nurse,” a testament to the increasing integration of technology into the nursing profession. This transformation is not only streamlining processes; it is addressing critical challenges like the nation’s nurse shortage while ultimately improving patient care.

Embracing convenience and accessibility

Virtual platforms have become commonplace in the nursing world, facilitating efficient and accessible professional development for nurses through online meetings, networking opportunities, and educational resources. This fosters a more connected and knowledgeable nursing community, better equipped to serve patients.

Telehealth consultations, another facet of digital nursing currently revolutionising patient care, provide convenient and accessible medical consultations from the comfort of one’s home, eliminating long wait times and unnecessary travel.

Mitigating nurse shortages and ensuring quality care

South Africa grapples with a significant nurse shortage, placing a strain on the healthcare system to which digital nursing offers a practical potential solution. By leveraging technology, nurses can effectively manage larger patient volumes, reducing the burden on the existing workforce and optimising resource allocation. Remote monitoring systems and AI-powered tools further empower nurses by providing real-time patient data and facilitating early intervention, ultimately improving the quality of care delivered.

Additionally, embracing technology ensures that patients, even in underserved areas, receive quality care. The efficiency gained through virtual platforms allows nurses to allocate their time effectively, addressing minor health concerns remotely and reducing the strain on healthcare facilities for non-emergency cases.

However, it must be pointed out that although leveraging technology allows nurses to effectively manage larger patient volumes, which can alleviate the strain on the current system, this doesn’t necessarily mean fewer nurses are needed, but rather that technology empowers existing numbers to reach a wider patient base to deliver more efficient, personalised care.

Evolving alongside technology: the digital nurse of tomorrow

As the healthcare industry embraces digital technologies, the role of the nurse will continue to expand. While traditional nursing skills will remain essential, the “digital nurse” of the future must possess additional competencies.  Acquiring proficiency in digital tools and equipment, along with the capability to interpret and analyse digital data, will be crucial for delivering effective patient care. However, the most critical attribute for the digital nurse will be the willingness to adapt and embrace constant technological advancements. This will require a mindset shift that comes with acknowledging that traditional methods might not be sufficient in the face of evolving patient needs.

The challenges and opportunities in change

While the adoption of digital nursing brings numerous benefits, challenges remain. Resistance from individuals accustomed to traditional healthcare practices is one hurdle. However, with the younger generation being more adaptable, the shift towards digital nursing is expected to gain wider acceptance as technology advances. To ensure the success of this digital-first healthcare, it will be necessary to focus our attention on upskilling, which means recognising that continuous training and development programs are vital for nurses to remain proficient in the face of change.

On the flip side, a change in perspective from nursing professionals themselves will be necessary. This means embracing a growth mindset and being open towards new technologies to adapt and thrive in the digital age. Lastly, healthcare professionals as a whole need to bear in mind that transformation is essential to meet the evolving needs of patients, which includes catering to a growing preference for digital healthcare solutions. Continuing to meet the needs of patients is the only guaranteed way for nursing professionals to ensure their relevance in the future. By embracing technology and fostering a culture of continuous learning, South Africa can empower its nurses to become the digital healthcare leaders of tomorrow.

We Need to Fight for Sleep Equity in SA, Say Leading Researchers

By Ufrieda Ho for Spotlight

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio

Research into the link between disordered sleep and disease show an outsized burden on the most vulnerable. It’s sounding alarms for sleep equity to have a place on the public health agenda, reports Ufrieda Ho.

Scientists are increasingly connecting the dots on how a lack of sleep places a disproportionate health burden on at-risk population groups, including people living with HIV, women, informal workers, the elderly and the poor.

This year’s World Sleep Day on 15 March focuses on sleep equity. Researchers say that tackling sleep inequity and raising awareness for the importance of sleep as a pillar of good health could help stave off several looming public health pressures.

The lack of healthy sleep is linked to cardiovascular disease, obesity, hypertension, diabetes, mental health conditions and dementia. In South Africa, understanding the connection between sleep and HIV is also key to managing the health of the large ageing population of people living with the disease.

Karine Scheuermaier is associate professor at the Wits University Brain Function Research Group. The country’s oldest sleep laboratory founded in 1982 is based at the university’s medical school in Parktown, Johannesburg.

“Society understands the role of exercise and diet in good health but somehow sleep has not had the same kind of awareness or priority, even if sleep is linked to how well your body functions and your chances of developing disease,” she says. “We do everything else at the expense of sleep. Sleep is somehow a symbol of laziness in a work-driven society and we need to change this thinking.”

Sleep inequity in SA

Sleep inequity is linked to socio-economic realities, she says. Sleep inequity might affect the person who lives in an environment where safety and security is neglected or where there is a high threat of gender-based violence. It could also be having to navigate apartheid city planning that forced black people to live far from job hubs. This legacy means today many workers still wake up early to face long work commutes daily. There could also be inequity in division of labour in households, when one person wakes up to take care of children or elderly family members in the home.

Living in overcrowded informal settlements also presents disturbances for good sleep, including high levels of noise and bright floodlights as street lighting. Those who work in unregulated or informal sectors, including shift work or digital platform workers, like e-hailing drivers, are prone to lose out on quality sleep.

clinic that does clinical work, research, and training. Chandiwana says homing in on the intersection of HIV and sleep is critical in a South African context.

“The average person living with HIV who has started antiretroviral treatment on time should live as long as a person who doesn’t have HIV. But what we know is that the person with HIV is on average, living 16 years less of good health. They are more likely to develop type II diabetes, mental health issues, obesity, and heart disease – and we know poor sleep is linked to this,” she says.

Chandiwana says sleep science is still a relatively new field of medicine and the nascent research is still looking to better understand how sleep deprivation triggers immune pathways and chronic inflammation in people living with HIV, even those who are healthy and respond positively on treatment.

A current study at the clinic is looking into the intersection of obesity, sleep apnoea, and women living with HIV. Chandiwana says because so much is unknown, the issue of sleep equity extends to support and funding for more locally appropriate sleep research. Medical school curricula needs to change and more avenues to train people in sleep research needs to be established, she says.

“We have very little African data on sleep disorders and disordered sleep,” she says. She argues we need better data on things like how many people are affected by poor sleep, a better understanding of what is causing it and what it means, and then we need to present these findings to public health authorities to look at it as a public health issue.

“We do have specific challenges in our country. If you are trying to explain to someone, who isn’t South African, how the impact of load-shedding affects sleep or how living in a shack affects sleep, it’s not always easy to do,” she says.

Chandiwana says countries in the global North are already counting insufficient quality sleep as an economic cost measured in loss of productivity, efficiency, safety and society’s well-being. They are also changing public health policies accordingly. South Africa and the rest of the continent stand to be left behind, she says.

How to get better sleep in SA

Chandiwana says: “There is no lab in South Africa that does sleep studies for people in the public sector and no place in the public sector for people to even be diagnosed for a sleep disorder – so services are extremely limited. With something like sleep apnoea, we can’t offer patients in the public sector the gold standard intervention of CPAP [continuous positive airway pressure, which is a device of a face mask, a nose piece, and a hose that delivers a steady flow of air pressure to keep airways open while someone sleeps] because this is financially out of reach. Instead, we have to work with patients to help them lose weight and do positional therapy like training them to sleep on their backs.”

Other ways to get better sleep without costly intervention or sleeping tablets, the two scientists say, include getting exercise, not having food, stimulants or alcohol two to three hours before bedtime, limiting screen time of all kinds in the hour around bedtime, getting exposure to the early morning sunlight each day, keeping sleeping areas dark, quiet and at a comfortable temperature, and developing fixed sleep routines and sleep time rituals – like brushing your teeth, putting on pyjamas, reading for a short period and then going to sleep.

Ultimately, Chandiwana suggests it all comes back to building awareness that healthy sleep is part of health rights.

“We have to fight for sleep equity and we need people to know that sleep is not elitist – it’s not just reserved for some,” she says, “and we should not be accepting poor sleep as the norm”.

Republished from Spotlight under a Creative Commons licence.

Source: Spotlight

Proposed Update to Schedule 6 of the Medicines and Related Substances Act

Photo by Kindel Media on Unsplash

By Rodney Africa, Partner, Adriano Esterhuizen, Partner & Daveraj Sauls, Associate at Webber Wentzel

The Minister of Health (the Minister) in terms of section 22A(2) of the Medicines and Related Substances Act 101 of 1965 (the Medicines Act), and on the recommendation of the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority, has invited interested persons to submit substantiated comments or representations on the proposed update of Schedule 6 to the Medicines Act.

The proposed update to Schedule 6 of the Medicines Act intends to exclude certain cannabis products containing Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive compound in cannabis, from the operation of the Schedules to the Medicines Act and will, inter alia, permit the manufacturing of cannabis consumer items and products, with no limitation on the percentage of THC content, provided that the items and products have no pharmacological action or medicinal purpose. This will also allow adults to cultivate and possess cannabis in private for personal consumption, with no limitation on the percentage of THC content.

This proposed update appears to be a move away from utilising THC content as a threshold to distinguish between consumable and industrial cannabis. This shift seemingly comes in response to the growing South African market for cannabis products and aims to augment the Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill 2023 [B19 – 2020] recently passed by the National Council of Provinces and submitted to the President for his assent and signature.

Interested persons have until Thursday, 14 March 2024 to submit any substantiated comments or representations by emailing or

Can Digital Technology Improve Accessibility to Healthcare in SA?

Technology is reshaping and closing the gap between patients, healthcare providers, and the healthcare system. By embracing this digital shift, South Africa’s healthcare sector can benefit both now and in the long term, resulting in a healthier and more prosperous society, writes Bada Pharasi, Chief Executive Officer of The Innovative Pharmaceutical Association South Africa (IPASA).

As technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and big data disrupt multiple industries, it has proven its worth in simplifying, analysing and speeding up processes, and the healthcare sector is no different. 

Technology in the sector has come a long way since the inception of the stethoscope and X-rays. Today, it is becoming the cornerstone of modern healthcare in developed countries across the globe and is growing at an unprecedented rate. So much so that studies suggest that while the global digital health market was valued at over US$330 billion in 2022, this number is expected to skyrocket to a staggering US$650 billion by 20251.  

While the likes of the United States and the United Kingdom lead the charge in the adoption of digital health, South Africa is quickly growing its share of the pie as well. Insights suggest that in South Africa revenue in the digital health market is projected to reach US$831.20 million this year. Moreover, it is envisioned to grow by an annual growth rate of as much as 7.57%, resulting in a projected market volume of US$1,113.00 million by 20282

From revolutionising patient access to cutting-edge medicine and AI-driven diagnostics tools to virtual consultations with healthcare specialists and genomic breakthroughs, the capabilities of digital health technologies are far-reaching.

The advent of technology such as AI and big data brings with it the capacity to interpret analytics and enhance patient care through faster diagnosis than was ever thought possible. Google’s DeepMind AI system, for example, recognises eye diseases with a correct diagnosis of up to 94.5%, while teledermatology companies have developed apps that utilise smartphone and computer cameras to aid patients in finding out the cause of lesions or certain conditions3.  

Moreover, technologies such as the Phillips Lumify Portable Ultrasound allow for an examination anywhere, be it a refugee camp or an accident scene, while IBM Watson has leveraged the power of AI to accelerate the early detection of oncological diseases and analyse data to compile treatment programmes for those with cancer3

It is a dynamic realm that enables better collaboration around patient-centred care, and one that promises a future where healthcare can be delivered to patients quickly and more effectively than ever before.

This is particularly relevant in the South African context, where as many as 45 million people, or 82 out of every 100 South Africans, fall outside of the medical aid cohort4. This is compounded by the fact that nearly 32% of the population resides in rural areas5 where access to healthcare is limited, meaning the adoption of digital healthcare has the potential to address many of the health issues that plague the country and create a healthier and more productive society. 

And the shift has already begun, with provincial departments such as the Free State Health Department heeding the digital call. In late 2023, the department announced its intention to utilise digital innovations to streamline healthcare services and improve patient and healthcare outcomes in the province6

The department’s first project in the province is focused on telemedicine, where patients and specialists consult online from the comfort of their local clinic, regardless of their different locations. The second sees the mountain of paper patient records being done away with in favour of a streamlined, digital system where patient records can be accessible electronically, thus greatly improving efficiency, reducing errors, and ensuring continuity of care6.   

Importantly, amidst the promising potential that these technologies yield, it is critical for healthcare workers to remain steadfast in their digital fluency and technological relevance. 

Gone are the days of specialists only being adept in their professions. Professionals of the future need an understanding of the technologies at their disposal, how they work and how they will better serve their patients. In this way, they will remain at the forefront of the latest innovations specific to their fields of expertise, thus propelling the advancements forward.

In doing so, this ongoing upskilling ensures not only the advancement of their professions but will also benefit patient outcomes for decades to come. 


1. Digital health – Statistics & Facts [Internet]. Statista. [cited 2024 Jan 16]. Available from:

2. Digital Health – South Africa [Internet]. Statista. [cited 2024 Jan 16]. Available from:

3. Digital healthcare: the evolution of better medicine [Internet]. [cited 2024 Jan 16]. Available from:

4. [No title] [Internet]. [cited 2024 Jan 16]. Available from:

5. South Africa Rural population, percent – data, chart [Internet]. [cited 2024 Jan 16]. Available from:

6. Sompane M. FS Health goes digital to improve services [Internet]. Health-e News. 2023 [cited 2024 Jan 16]. Available from:

Opinion: We can’t Simply Close Dental Facilities during the Festive Period

Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko on Pexels

By Bulela Vava for Spotlight

On the 2nd of January 2024, Simphiwe*, needing emergency oral healthcare, turned to the Cala District Hospital in the Eastern Cape. However, she was confronted with a note on the door that read, “Dear Community Members, starting from the 18th of December 2023 to the 12th of January 2024 there is no dentist. The dentist will start working on the 15th of January 2024.”

Many such notices hang in front of oral health clinic doors, mostly where dentists work alone to respond to the myriad of emergency oral health needs within their catchment area. Having previously worked alone at a provincial government funded hospital in the rural Eastern Cape, similar notices would be placed on the door to the oral health clinic I operated, until such time as a colleague joined me at the facility.

Oral diseases affect more than 3 billion people globally, while in Africa, it affects an estimated 400 million people.

Oral diseases and conditions that affect people include trauma-related oral injuries, oral cancers, dental decay, and periodontal disease amongst others.

While dental decay remains the most common form of oral disease, untreated, it can lead to life-threatening complications. The closure of dental services at any oral health clinic may subject people to the risk of developing conditions such as Ludwig’s angina, a life-threatening condition that is linked to delayed access to care.

Fewer than 200 dentists

The Eastern Cape is predominantly a rural province, with most of the province’s 7.2 million people largely depending on public healthcare services for the majority, if not all their healthcare needs. The province employs fewer than 200 dentists, a majority of whom are concentrated in the more urban/peri-urban centres.

Cala, a rural town in the province’s Sakhisizwe Local Municipality, is home to an estimated 63 000 people and Cala District Hospital provides access to oral health services to this population. The hospital’s closed dental clinic over the festive period deprived the people of Cala of much-needed care.

It is well known that the festive period results in an increased need for emergency healthcare, including oral healthcare services. People often present with jaw fractures, tooth fractures -often a result of violence or accidents associated with an increase in alcohol consumption -, oral pain and sepsis. While the festive period may result in the increased need for managing these conditions, these are the usual conditions, amongst others, that are managed in many public oral health clinics in most provinces.

Oral health professionals, in particular dentists, are trained to manage the complete spectrum of general oral diseases and often refer to dental specialists for complex and specialised management. In a province like the Eastern Cape, characterised by a dire shortage of dental specialists, dentists are the last defence for many of the people in the province.

A significant portion of dentists in the province work alone, with limited options to manage their leave, often leaving clinics closed in their absence.

However, the closure of dental clinics without a detailed and well-communicated plan is unacceptable and places the lives of populations in danger. At times, people have been known to resort to harmful and dangerous home practices to relieve themselves of their anguish.

We need a plan

A comprehensive plan must be put in place for efficient management and referral of emergency oral healthcare cases during the festive period so that we avoid a repeat of this year’s unacceptable situation at Cala District Hospital 12 months down the line. People in need of oral health services must be made aware of where they can access such services without any delay.

Beyond this, there is a need to invest in building adequate human resource capacity for oral health in the province, to ensure that services are readily available. A mix of oral health professionals and the prioritisation of “lone dentist” clinics for community service placements should help alleviate some of the problems in the system.

It is concerning that the challenges faced in the Eastern Cape is very similar to those in other parts of the country. Fewer than 3000 dentists are working in the public healthcare sector nationwide. With such numbers it is unlikely that what happened to Simphiwe was an isolated incident. Her experience should serve as an important case study, highlighting the significant problems faced by communities and oral health professionals.

Those responsible for managing oral healthcare services in South Africa must take note and recognise that the continued deprioritisation and neglect of the population’s oral health cannot be allowed to continue.  We must work together to ensure that oral health is given the attention it deserves as a critical aspect of general health and well-being.

*Dr Vava is the President of the Public Oral Health Forum, a network of public oral health professionals striving for oral health equity, dignity and well-being for all.

Republished from Spotlight under a Creative Commons licence.

Source: Spotlight

Opinion piece: Specialist TES Providers Optimising Healthcare Operations – a Prescription for Patient Care Success

By Sandra Sampson, Director at Allmed

The healthcare sector in South Africa is beset with numerous challenges, ranging from high turnover rates to skilled staffing shortages and complex regulations in addition to stressful working environments, and communication barriers. Despite these formidable obstacles, patients have the right to expect top-tier care from their medical facilities. Here, specialised Temporary Employment Services (TES) providers can become indispensable partners, adeptly assisting medical facilities to navigate these challenges in their quest to ensure a seamless continuum of care.

Streamlining healthcare staffing to counter shortages

Specialist TES providers offer a multifaceted remedy to the relentless staffing challenges in healthcare. Capable of promptly supplying temporary staff to bridge immediate gaps, TES providers ensure that all resources have already been rigorously screened, recruiting qualified professionals to function as a buffer against high turnover and staffing scarcities. Through tailored training, specialist providers ensure that their temporary staff placements align seamlessly with organisational expectations to consistently uphold care standards. Furthermore, specialist TES providers alleviate the burden of complex healthcare regulations on management and staff by taking on the responsibility of handling the entire employment relationship, from end to end, including managing human resources and labour relations components, as well as payroll. This provides significant relief for healthcare facilities giving them the staffing resources that they need, without the additional administrative complexities involved with recruiting, on-boarding and managing such resources.

Addressing skills gaps to raise the bar on healthcare resources

Maintaining consistent levels of patient care without compromising quality is challenging in the face of staffing shortages and high turnover rates. With so many specialised healthcare staff, including ICU personnel, leaving for better opportunities abroad due to financial considerations, such an exodus necessitates urgent strategies to retain and fill gaps within healthcare facilities. Specialist TES providers are already playing a critical role in addressing these concerns by focusing on nurse competencies and facilitating targeted courses to upskill their resources. These courses address critical gaps in patient safety and empower nurses to provide better care. Through the development of these essential courses, such as ECG interpretation and cannulation, TES providers are taking significant steps to ensure nurses possess the necessary skills and knowledge. This proactive approach not only enhances patient care at a facility level, but also contributes to nurse competence and job satisfaction, ultimately benefiting the healthcare ecosystem.

The strategic advantages of enhancing workforce dynamics

In addition to operational bolstering and sector-specific upskilling, specialist healthcare TES providers present strategic benefits for healthcare facilities. Access to a diverse, extensive talent pool makes it simpler for medical organisations to find the ideal fit for each role, effectively mitigating the risk of hiring mismatches usually associated with permanent placements. Medical facilities also benefit from the cost-effectiveness of the TES operating model, which aligns with the dynamic nature of healthcare to optimise resource allocation. This is particularly important in hospitals where patient occupancy levels fluctuate daily. Many healthcare organisations now operate with a 50/50 ratio of permanent placements and temporary resources, which gives them the flexibility to accommodate the ever-shifting demands of patient care staffing, while safeguarding the delivery of quality care. By efficiently managing both permanent and agency staff, TES providers optimise recruitment efforts and ensure that the right candidates are placed in suitable roles, benefiting the healthcare organisation’s operations and patient care. TES providers uphold patient confidentiality and provide comprehensive training, ensuring staff are cognisant of privacy protocols and handle sensitive information appropriately.

Boosting patient care excellence: the vital role of specialist TES providers

In an era where healthcare value is intricately tied to workforce excellence, TES providers play a pivotal role in elevating the sector by helping medical facilities conquer their industry-specific challenges, enabling the fundamental mission of enhancing patient well-being. Ultimately, Specialist TES providers represent a crucial element in the healthcare sector’s quest for excellence, as their strategic approach to staffing not only addresses immediate needs but also upholds patient care standards, while easing administrative burdens, and enhancing workforce competencies. As such, collaboration with specialist TES providers is a progressive strategy that medical organisations should prioritise to effectively navigate the intricate challenges of the healthcare landscape today while significantly enhancing patient care outcomes.

Opinion Piece: From Crisis to Cleanliness – CSI Initiatives Have the Power to Eliminate Pit Latrines in South African Schools

By Robert Erasmus, Managing Director at Sanitech

The continued use of pit latrines presents grave risks in South Africa, particularly within school environments where the safety and well-being of children are compromised. Recent government statistics from March 2023 reveal a staggering reality: out of 23 000 public schools, over 3300 still rely on pit latrines, necessitating urgent action.

Private sector involvement through Corporate Social Investment (CSI) emerges as a critical player in tackling this pressing issue. In 2022, a substantial R10.9 billion was designated for CSI, with half of the funds directed to the education sector. By reallocating a portion of these resources towards sanitation initiatives, companies could act as a powerful force for meaningful change, especially if invested in innovative solutions like the Khusela dry sanitation unit. This advanced solution not only holds the potential to resolve the sanitation crisis in schools but also provides an avenue for businesses to elevate their Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) ratings simultaneously.

CSI can bypass burdensome bureaucracy

With approximately 14% of public schools still relying on hazardous facilities, urgent action is essential; but eradicating pit latrines from South African schools is no small feat. While close collaboration between the private and public sector will be required, government has been slow to address this health and safety crisis as promised, and their burdensome procurement and tender processes have only served to hinder progress, making it evident that relief will have to be sought elsewhere. This is where a beacon of hope emerges through the coordination of CSI and ESG initiatives in the private sector. One of the key advantages of leveraging CSI and ESG initiatives is their potential for rapid, impactful change. The private sector, with its focused CSI efforts, can target key areas for high-impact intervention. Schools, being the cornerstone of a child’s daily life, stand to benefit the most. Imagine the profound difference proper sanitation facilities could make in the lives of students who spend most of their day within these school premises. A rapid transformation in these facilities, facilitated by private sector involvement, can significantly improve the learning environment and overall, well-being of these young minds.

A swift and strategic approach to school sanitation

Measuring the success of CSI initiatives is crucial, and this is where a collaborative approach truly shines. Conducting nationwide surveys and prioritising schools most in need will allow for a strategic and targeted allocation of resources. Instead of waiting for bureaucratic processes to run their course, CSI initiatives can swiftly address the pressing issues of inadequate sanitation facilities. The results will be tangible, the impact immediate, and the benefits will reach those in need, without delay or diversion. Furthermore, ongoing collaboration with waste management providers will oversee these sanitation solutions to ensure initiatives remain purpose-fit, providing not just a one-time fix but a sustained relationship for ongoing positive change.

A safe, cost-effective sanitation solution

At the forefront of revolutionising sanitation in South African schools stands the Khusela dry sanitation unit. Unlike traditional pit latrines, the Khusela unit offers a safer and more hygienic alternative, eliminating the inherent health risks associated with dangerous, unsanitary facilities. Its design focuses on promoting a healthier environment by efficiently managing waste, mitigating contamination, and significantly reducing unpleasant odours. The introduction of Khusela units in schools will not only address a critical health concern but also empower students, especially girls, by providing a discreet and dignified space for personal hygiene, ensuring that the barriers to regular school attendance are diminished. Additionally, the ESG advantages of sanitation upgrade projects are significant, spanning environmental preservation, enhanced social well-being, and improved governance, aligning clearly with fundamental ESG principles that emphasise dedication to a sustainable future.

CSI and ESG: win-win for public schools and the private sector

In short, effective CSI initiatives focused on sanitation offer a dual advantage: they align with corporate CSI objectives while directly addressing essential ESG aspects like environmental and social responsibility. This unique synergy creates a win-win scenario, where the private sector can fulfil its societal and environmental obligations and ultimately contribute to a sustainable and equitable future. The call to action is clear – businesses must recognise the power they possess to expedite change and must engage with organisations in the waste management, hygiene, and sanitation space for impactful partnerships. Together, we can replace pit latrines in South African schools with safer, more hygienic alternatives and create healthier environments that are conducive for the growth and development of our youth. 

The NHI Will Enforce the Use of EHRs – Resulting in a Steep Learning Curve for 60% Of SA’s GPs

Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

As the development of the National Digital Health Strategy for South Africa (2019 – 2024) progresses, and the implementation of the National Health Insurance (NHI) implementation looms closer, it is clear that digital health will be the significant driver behind transforming our health system.

To date, a Health Patient Registration System (HPRS) Project has been started as an initial requirement before developing a template for what a patient Electronic Health Record (EHR) would include. Although the diagnostic, treatment and billing modules necessary for EHR’s within the NHI still need to be developed, one thing is certain: a complete, shareable, electronic health record for each patient will be key.  

How will it work

CompuGroup Medical South Africa, (CGM SA), a leading MedTech company describes an EHR as a portable, interactive, digital set of health records for a patient that assists healthcare providers in managing their care. The wealth of information provided in each EHR – from a patient’s medical history, demographics, their laboratory test results over time, medicine prescribed, a history of medical procedures, X-rays to any medical allergies – offers endless opportunities for real time patient care.

EHRs have the potential to play a role in closing the healthcare gap in South Africa by improving affordable access to healthcare and reducing health disparities. This is particularly important for marginalised populations who may have limited access to healthcare services.

GPs must adapt

Although the adoption of EHRs in South Africa is very low, with an estimated 40%* of healthcare professionals currently using digital health records in their practice or hospital, the looming National Health Insurance (NHI) Bill will encourage the adoption of EHRs, potentially improving care coordination, enhancing population health management, increasing efficiency and cost savings.

Globally, EHRs are responsible for improving efficiency by reducing duplicates within patient records, reducing unnecessary interventions such as repeat prescriptions and duplicate referrals. Of those using any form of healthcare technologies daily, 69% have found an improvement in the quality of care and 59% have seen a positive impact on patient outcomes.

Looking at the usage of technology by patients in South Africa, the statistics show that we lag behind the world average, with less than a third of our population using digital health technologies to track their health. It appears this is partially due to a distrust for the security of their health data and an affordability consideration.  

“One of the major challenges from a general practitioner perspective is that there is currently a lack of government policy and guidelines for patient data security, which in turn, affects their willingness to adopt EHRs as a standard,” says Dillip Naran, Vice President for Product Architecture at CGM SA.  

“If these hurdles can be overcome, the adoption of EHRs by GPs is predicted to have a positive impact on healthcare outcomes, and improve efficiency in the long run. The successful implementation and utilisation of EHRs will require careful planning, investment, and collaboration across the proposed NHI healthcare system, “ he goes on to mention.

Here are the seven main ways EHRs will contribute to the success of a National Health Insurance (NHI) programme in South Africa:

  • Improved patient safety: Reducing adverse effects related to medication prescription errors, dispensing errors, labelling errors and even, wrong site surgery.
  • Improved care coordination: Helping healthcare providers share patient information easily and more accurately, improving the coordination of care across different providers and settings, and eliminating the duplication of services.
  • Enhanced population health management: Providing data on health outcomes and trends to identify and address public health issues, such as disease outbreaks or health disparities, potentially informing policy decisions and resource allocation within the NHI.
  • Increased efficiency and cost savings: Reducing the administrative burden and streamlining processes, which can improve efficiency and reduce costs within the healthcare system.
  • Enhanced decision-making: Providing healthcare professionals with immediate access to relevant patient data, including medical history, allergies, medications, and test results. This information empowers clinicians to make well-informed decisions about patient care, leading to better diagnosis and treatment options.
  • Efficient claims processing: Streamlining the claims process, in the context of the NHI model, with the electronic submission of medical information leading to faster claims processing and reducing the chances of errors or fraud.
  • Early detection and management of chronic conditions: Flagging individuals who may be at a higher risk for chronic conditions, and monitoring the management of their care. 

It is important to realise that the implementation of EHRs can’t be expected to be solely responsible for closing the gap in healthcare. Other factors such as access to healthcare services, poverty and education need to be addressed, along with solving challenges such as data privacy, security concerns and improving digital literacy within certain previously disadvantaged population groups.

By Andrea Desfarges on behalf of CompuGroup Medical SA.

*. *Statistics taken from “Adapt as you adopt: Adjusting to digital health tech to drive access to care” by Jasper Westerlink, Dec 2019.  

Op:Ed – How Collaboration can Help South Africa to Build a Better Healthcare System

Photo by Sora Shimazaki:

As various players in South Africa’s health arena give input into the National Health Insurance, and the form it should take, they are agreed on one thing: its goal to achieve quality universal healthcare for all South Africans.

The recent COVID-19 vaccine rollout is a good foretaste of what is possible for South Africa’s healthcare system through the power of cross-sectoral collaboration – and a great case study for health systems strengthening in other countries too.

The rollout saw the public and private sectors, trade unions and community organisations pooling their resources and expertise to get the vaccines to South Africans as fast as possible, and the campaign showed that the country has the resources and expertise to provide a better, more equitable healthcare service.

The question is how we take these lessons and embed them in a healthcare system that serves all of a country’s citizens, and does so in a sustainable way, while adhering to best practice standards.

The clear answer is through the power of partnership – which has been demonstrated to work both here and in the rest of the developing world. Promoting public-private partnerships (PPPs), can accelerate access and distribution of innovative medications. By working together, government, originator companies, and funders can ensure that patients benefit from the latest advancements in healthcare.

Rwanda, for instance, has made significant progress in managing non-communicable diseases (NCDs) through community-based health insurance schemes. Brazil has successfully implemented a comprehensive primary healthcare approach. These countries have prioritised prevention, early detection, and treatment of NCDs, which can be adapted to the South African context.

Locally implemented initiatives under the global Making More Health (MMH) programme include training community health workers to provide primary care services, supporting local entrepreneurs in developing innovative healthcare solutions, and partnering with NGOs to improve access to healthcare in rural areas. These initiatives have helped address complex healthcare issues by empowering local communities and leveraging local resources.

MMH is a social initiative from Boehringer Ingelheim in collaboration with Ashoka, which combines business and social values to unleash innovation and achieve economic and social progress in healthcare. The objective of this long-term initiative is to source social innovation around the world, to explore unconventional partnerships and business models, and to encourage Boehringer Ingelheim employees.

We must also turn our attention to NCDs, which are a major health threat. The WHO estimates that globally, they are responsible for 74% of all deaths. Research into South Africa’s NCD states can play a crucial role in health systems strengthening by identifying the most prevalent diseases, understanding their risk factors, and informing evidence-based policies and interventions. This would help target resources more effectively and improve health outcomes.

This requires robust health data, hosted on a digital infrastructure, which would promote data-sharing among healthcare providers, and encourage the use of standardised data collection methods. This would help create a more accurate picture of the population’s health needs and enable better decision-making across the entire health ecosystem.

We also need to make sure we retain our world-class doctors, and address our critical nursing shortage – it’s estimated we need about 26 000 additional nurses to fill the gap. Without sufficient personnel to deliver healthcare, all the best intentions in the world will not deliver universal health coverage.

We must invest in improving the working conditions and incentives for healthcare professionals in the public sector, strengthen primary healthcare services, and promote collaboration between public and private providers. This would help to ensure that the expertise and experience of these professionals is effectively employed to benefit the broader population.

Moreover, increased collaboration with innovator companies in the private sector, many of whom are already involved in initiatives to strengthen the health system, would ensure patients receive the right treatment while expanding reach across the entire population. This would help tackle inefficiencies, streamline processes, and enable better resource allocation.

The fundamentals of health system strengthening in South Africa include adequate financing, a well-trained and motivated healthcare workforce, efficient supply chain management, and strong governance and leadership. Addressing these gaps – through partnership and collaboration – would help build a more resilient and responsive healthcare system and ensure that South African citizens have access to better healthcare.

Frank Dialogue on NHI: Medical Schemes are a Government Asset

As the National Health Insurance (NHI) Bill makes its way through the approval process in the National Council of Provinces (NCOP), many actors in various sectors have called on the South African government to carefully consider the concerns raised regarding the proposed bill.

Stressing this point as one of the panellists in the Kwa-Zulu Natal leg of the Frank Dialogue on NHI hosted by media anchor and Leadership magazine editor, Prof JJ Tabane, and his team, recently in Umhlanga, Dr Katlego Mothudi, Board of Healthcare Funders (BHF) MD, acknowledged that both the public and the private sectors were not perfect, but cited that destroying the private sector was not going to accelerate the attainment of the global agenda of Universal Health Coverage. Strengthening a health system requires reform of six pillars; and the National Health Insurance formed part of the finance pillar only. He further noted that the private sector was a national asset to contribute to the success of health reform.

Other participants in the dialogue were the Minister of Health, Dr Joe Phaahla, Dr Kgosi Letlape (former Health Professions Council of SA and SA Medical Association chair), Zwelinzima Vavi (SA Federation of Trade Unions chair), Dr Nicholas Crisp (Department of Health Deputy-Director: NHI), and Nozibele Tshobeni (Sizwe Hosmed Acting PO).

The primary aim of these events has been to facilitate a constructive and inclusive discourse among various professionals in the sector, with the Minister of Health, regarding the proposed NHI Bill. 

Emphasising the importance of overcoming several issues before the Bill could be successfully rolled out, Prof Tabane acknowledged that the health crisis in South Africa was of significant concern, rendering the implementation of universal health coverage (UHC) a necessity.

Asked about the future role of medical schemes under NHI, Crisp reiterated that NHI was not about scrapping medical aids, but about the right of all South Africans to access affordable healthcare: “The bill does not abolish or repeal the National Health Act. It merely goes about a different way of financing – a single fund to care for the majority of the health benefits that we need as a nation to strive.

However, Dr Mothudi disagreed with Crisp and highlighting that a multi-payer system was a better model given the south African context that has load of fraud and corruption.  “Why not a multi-payer system, as originally proposed in the first NHI Green Paper?” he asked.

“Between now and that point,” Crisp explained, “we need the medical schemes to continue what they are doing but to do it more effectively than they are doing at present. They criticised us in the Health Market Inquiry, saying we did not provide leadership. Now we are providing leadership – we want to have a multilateral negotiating forum, we want to set prices, want to introduce other related measures:

A moot point made by Sizwe Hosmed’s Ms Tshobeni in her concluding remarks was that while she agreed that NHI was “overall, a good idea”, pushing the Bill through was putting the cart before the horse: “How we are going about it is really the problem.

“We are not that far apart in our discussions on this, but where we are drifting apart can be answered by the question ‘why are we here?’” asked Dr Mothudi.

“Going on blaming apartheid etc is not good. The Medical Schemes Act, for example, was promulgated in 1998 – post-apartheid. So, we must take responsibility for these challenges. Secondly, Government must provide stewardship, being responsible for the lives and healthcare of every citizen. Right now, we only have one Department of Health, not one for the public and one for the private sector.”

Also noted was that the private sector “does not run itself”. The National Health Act is there to guide practitioners and establishments how they should behave, while the Medical Schemes Act is enforced by the Council for Medical Schemes under stewardship of Department of Health.

While many views were expressed about the pros and cons of NHI, among the most common once again were, as already mentioned, the wisdom of a single payer system. Contributing his views on this, the BHF’s Dr Mothudi revived the originally drafted concept of a multipayer system for the fund: “A multipayer system was proposed in the first NHI Green Paper but was thrown out! A multipayer system would work in the same way as it did during the COVID vaccination campaign. When standing in the vaccination queue you wouldn’t know who was paying for the service for the person in front of you – employer, medical aid, or government?

“The pricing and service for the vaccine and procedure,” he said, “was set the same for all and for everyone.”

To watch the Frank Dialogue Click Here