Category: Medical Industry

BHF Annual Conference Concludes with Key NHI Insights and Roadmap for SA’s Healthcare Future

Photo by Pexels on Pixabay

After what was an insightful and collaborative meeting of the minds of healthcare professionals and experts at the 2024 BHF Annual Conference, the final day concluded by providing crucial insights into regulatory reforms shaping the future of healthcare in South Africa, as well as the legalities surrounding the controversial NHI Bill.  

Facilitated by Nomo Khumalo, BHF Director and Head of Solutions at MMI Health, part one of the discussion comprised the key regulatory responses essential for building a resilient health system capable of navigating beyond current barriers. 

Among the notable delegates participating in the discussion were Vincent Tlala, Registrar and CEO of the South African Pharmacy Council; Dr Magome Masike, Registrar of the Health Professions Council of South Africa; Dr Thandi S Mabeba, Chairperson of the Council for Medical Schemes; Dr Mark Blecher, Chief Director of Health and Social Development at the National Treasury; Yoliswa Makhasi, Director General of DPSA; and Dr Sandile Buthelezi, Director-General of the National Department of Health. 

Their expertise across the healthcare regulatory sector added invaluable insights into the state of the sector, where they explored the current policy landscape, analysed the intent of reforms versus the realities, and discussed necessary changes for policymakers to ensure healthcare sustainability. 

While all dignitaries note the need for Universal Health Coverage (UHC) to bridge the gap in access to healthcare in South Africa, Dr Sandile Buthelezi, acknowledged the complexity of implementing the NHI and the need for a phased approach. To this end, Buthelezi cited that significant work is required to establish the fund, develop regulations, and set up administrative structures.

“Apart from this, optimising healthcare delivery requires prioritising resource utilisation through proper management and spending, and addressing managerial issues to utilise available resources effectively,” suggests Buthelezi. 

“Regulatory reforms are essential for advancing healthcare, encompassing standardised data collection, quality enhancement, and informed policy evolution. Moreover, the integration of digital health strategies is paramount, leveraging technology to bolster comprehensive health information systems and elevate healthcare delivery.”

Amidst the discussions, a common thread resonated among all dignitaries: the vital importance of collaboration. Here, Buthelezi stressed the necessity for stakeholders within the healthcare sector to unite in pursuit of shared goals, emphasising the need to improve health outcomes and effectively tackle challenges through collaborative efforts.

Following this, the conversation swung to the legalities of the impending NHI Bill in a session chaired by Michelle Beneke of Michelle Beneke Attorneys Inc, and featured industry experts Neil Kirby, Director at Werksmans Attorneys, and David Geral, Partner at Bowmans.

The conversation focused on the several facets of the implementation of the Bill, including its constitutionality, lack of government response to engagement efforts, and the broader regulatory challenges facing the healthcare industry.

According to Kirby, Werksman Attorneys, as legal representatives of BHF, have closely monitored the evolution of the NHI Bill, thoroughly scrutinising its alignment with South Africa’s constitutional principles.

“Regrettably, the implementation process hasn’t yielded a bill that adequately addresses our constitutional concerns. Despite incremental progress and assurances of future adjustments, the current iteration falls short of meeting the constitutional litmus test. 

“As stakeholders directly impacted by the bill’s implications, we cannot afford to overlook constitutional shortcomings. Our obligation demands rigorous adherence to constitutional standards, ensuring that any legislation enacted upholds the rights and principles enshrined in our constitution,” he says. 

To this end, Geral adds that the Bill introduces significant changes to the healthcare system, which may potentially affect tax policy and revenue sources. 

In closing the conference, Dr Katlego Mothudi, Managing Director at BHF, emphasised the success of the conference in addressing industry challenges while promoting sustainability across the healthcare sector. 

“As we conclude this enlightening conference, we reflect on the breadth of topics covered, from disease burden to the transformative potential of digitisation and AI in healthcare. Our discussions underscored the necessity of embracing change, combating fraud, and fostering regional collaboration. 

“With a firm focus on healthcare reform, particularly the intricacies of the NHI Bill, our gathering has propelled us toward a future marked by innovation, resilience, sustainability and collective action. In the words of Edgar Tan – we can have what we need if we use what we have,” he concludes.

Adcock Ingram Critical Care Partners with Convatec to Supply Advanced Medical Products

Convatec’s Esteem stoma care system

Adcock Ingram Critical Care (AICC), a leading manufacturer and supplier of hospital and critical care products in Southern Africa, is expanding its reach in Ostomy and Advanced Wound Care. On 1 February 2024, AICC and Convatec signed a sales, marketing and distribution agreement covering South Africa and neighbouring countries.

Convatec is a globally renowned medical products and technologies company focused on therapies for managing chronic conditions, with leading positions in advanced wound care, ostomy care, continence care, and infusion care.

Colin Sheen, MD at AICC says: “This strategic agreement will add an important new pillar to AICC’s business. As a key pharmaceutical company in Southern Africa, AICC takes its responsibility towards healthcare professionals and patients seriously. As part of our commitment and responsibility to healthcare providers and patients, this agreement between AICC and Convatec is aligned with our mission to provide quality products that improve the health and lives of people in the markets we serve.”

The agreement extends throughout South Africa and neighbouring countries, and includes the import and distribution of a range of finished products in Advanced Wound Care, Ostomy Care and Continence Care. Convatec’s solutions provide various clinical and economic benefits that include infection prevention, protection of at-risk skin, and improved patient outcomes.

Sameer Singla, Vice President – Asia, Middle-East, Africa (AMEA) at Convatec says: “Convatec is pleased to partner with AICC to extend the reach of our products and solutions for patients. Convatec is committed to supporting people living with challenging medical conditions, and to addressing the care gap between the support patients need and what healthcare professionals can provide, which underpins our ‘forever caring’ promise. We look forward to partnering with AICC to meet the needs of patients and healthcare professionals.”

News24 Awards Name Bestmed as ‘Medical Scheme of the Year’

The News24 Business Awards – focused on areas such as costs, client service and claims – has named the largest self-administered medical scheme in SA as the nation’s best

Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

Bestmed Medical Scheme, the fourth largest open medical scheme and the largest self-administered medical scheme in the country, has been honoured with the News24 Medical Scheme of the Year award, at the 2024 News24 Business Awards.

These awards recognise client satisfaction scores surveyed from more than 4 000 subscribers, along with their assessment of the offering, among other criteria, and cover multiple sectors, including banking, insurance, and healthcare.

Focused on a range of criteria, including customers’ satisfaction with key issues like costs, and client service and claims, the awards also consider the company’s transparency / communication with clients, overall contribution to South Africa, shareholder value creation and business performance. These elements are also evaluated by News24’s financial reporters, as well as fund managers and analysts – with results ultimately audited by an actuarial consultant.

This year, Bestmed took the coveted Medical Scheme Award notably because of the outstanding feedback from its clients in a survey of thousands of News24 readers, especially when it came to its claim process and communication. News24 journalists also gave Bestmed a very high score for how easy it is to understand what is covered and for value for money.

“Bestmed is truly proud to be named Medical Scheme of the Year, particularly based on criteria that are so client-focused,” says Leo Dlamini, CEO and Principal Officer of Bestmed Medical Scheme. “These awards celebrate the best in corporate South Africa, and we are pleased to have been recognised for our efforts in this space. We have always believed in great member experience, value for money offerings and making a difference in the communities in which we operate.”

Awards of this nature are nothing new to the Scheme, which has received many similar accolades in recent years. Bestmed was voted, for a second successive time, as the leader in the South African medical scheme industry when it comes to customer satisfaction, according to the most recent SA Customer Satisfaction Index (SA-csi). Last year, Bestmed also received the Board of Health Funders’ Titanium Award for Excellence in Creating Access to Quality Healthcare – this, for the third consecutive time. Bestmed was also voted first in 2020 and 2022, and second in 2023, for customer experience in the Ask Afrika Orange Index® benchmark’s medical aid category.

“Members are at the centre of everything that we do. Our ‘Personally Yours’ promise is a commitment to consistently providing our members with the highest quality service, while also offering value for money. This award affirms our conviction and energises us to maintain the focus on member experience and value-for-money offerings. This will continue to set Bestmed apart as a healthcare funder of choice,” concludes Dlamini.

About Bestmed

Bestmed Medical Scheme is the largest self-administered medical scheme in South Africa. Bestmed’s “Personally Yours” philosophy leads the way in the medical aid industry. Bestmed’s membership offerings include 14 unique plans, designed to suit the needs of members. Beneficiaries have access to a network of more than 18 000 healthcare professionals countrywide. The Scheme’s head office is based in Tshwane (Gauteng). Bestmed has satellite offices in Nelspruit, Durban, Cape Town, Gqeberha (Port Elizabeth) and Polokwane.  For more information visit www.bestmed.co.za

Ethics Webinar: Advertising Your Practice

We are excited to extend a special invitation to you for our upcoming webinar on March 13th, titled “Advertising Your Practice.” Following the tremendous success of our previous webinars, we are thrilled to present this insightful session featuring industry experts JP Ellis, Claims & Legal expert at EthiQal, and Athol Gordon, Partner at Clyde & Co, renowned for their expertise in medical negligence.

This webinar will provide valuable insights into effectively advertising your practice, drawing from their extensive experience and expertise. Don’t miss this opportunity to gain valuable knowledge and network with other professionals in the field.

Date: March 13th

Time: 19h00 – 20h30

Location: Zoom (Online)

Please register here: https://webinar.ethiqal.co.za/  to secure your spot.

We look forward to your participation and insightful contributions during the Q&A session.

First HIV Antiretrovirals Manufactured in Space Delivered Back to Earth

For the first time, unique commercial pharmaceuticals produced using the zero gravity of outer space have been returned to Earth. After being stuck in space waiting for clearance to land, a capsule containing the small but extremely valuable cargo of HIV antiretrovirals landed in the desert in the US state of Utah. Drugs produced this way have higher purity and often improved pharmacokinetics, but have been too costly to produce until now.

In June 2023, a miniature pharmaceuticals factory built by Varda Space Industries was launched into Earth orbit. This small space startup company had only been around since 2020 – and the COVID pandemic had inspired them to look for a way to use the unique properties of space to directly benefit the health of people on Earth.

Zero gravity process can give drugs new properties

According to Varda co-founder Delian Asparouhov, gravity has significant effects somewhere between the microscopic scale and the atomic scale. This has beneficial applications in all manner of processes like crystal formation in drug manufacturing. For example, it is possible to give certain solid state pharmaceuticals improved solubility, turning a four-hour intravenous infusion into a couple of subcutaneous injections. The number of oral pills required for a treatment could be reduced. Since treatment compliance is a major obstacle to treatment, such improved drugs could significantly improve outcomes.

There are many drugs that were abandoned simply because administration was too impractical. Zero gravity manufacturing could open up these libraries of discarded drugs, Asparouhov says. It could also be possible to modify certain drugs to cross the blood–brain barrier.

Antiviral Drug Polarized crystals (photographed through a microscope) of the drug 2-3 dideoxyadenosine, also known as ddA, a drug that is closely related to AZT or azidothymidine. The antiviral effect of ddA against HIV was discovered at the National Cancer Institute. Credit: Larry Ostby (Photographer), National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health

Onboard the small space factory is a pharmaceutical manufacturing system designed to produce ritonavir, an antiretroviral which was initially used to treat HIV. This early antiretroviral has a number of notorious gastrointestinal and metabolic side effects. In 1998, there was a major production crisis when it was discovered that were production defects in the the oral form stemming from crystallisation problems.

Nowadays, ritonavir has been surpassed by newer antiretroviral drugs for the treatment of HIV but has been investigated for cancer treatment and during the pandemic received emergency use authorisation for COVID treatment. The samples retrieved from the capsule will only be used for evaluation purposes, to help inform the production of other pharmaceuticals.

Producing drug proteins in space is nothing new. This has been done on space stations for decades – however, these were for research purposes in developing drugs and understanding biological processes. It is only now that technology has advanced to the point where it has become cheap enough to use the unique environment of outer space to manufacture high-value products.

The capsule with its onboard factory is specially designed to be recovered and reused to minimise costs. This has only been possible thanks to rockets becoming vastly cheaper. NASA’s space shuttle cost US$65 400 for each kilogram of cargo launched into space. Today, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket costs a mere 4% of that, with costs set to fall further.

Such breakneck technological development was bound to run into a snag – this one consisting of red tape. The agency that regulates commercial air and spaceflight, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) gave Varda a licence for their payload to be launched, but not for the capsule to re-enter the atmosphere. The vast majority of satellites don’t have to worry about that, simply burning up in the atmosphere when they can no longer function. The FAA is obviously concerned about a large module returning intact but out of control.

Eventually, after more than six months of delays and looking at alternatives such as landing in Australia instead, Varda was able to secure a re-entry permit for 21st February and its capsule returned to Earth under a parachute in the Utah desert.

Asparouhov envisions a time when much larger orbital factories produce pharmaceuticals and other valuable materials in orbit.

Pharmaceutical Task Group (PTG) Announces Appointment of Chairman and Deputy Chairman

Zwelethu (Zweli) Bashman, has been appointed chairman of the Pharmaceutical Industry Association (PTG), and Dr Stavros Nicolaou as deputy chairman.  Four pharmaceutical associations, representing more than 80% of the industry, comprise the membership of the PTG.

Bashman is president of the Innovative Pharmaceutical Association South Africa (IPASA), and managing director of MSD South Africa and sub-Saharan Africa.

“Our goal is to contribute towards an environment that promotes growth and investment in the South African pharmaceutical industry while aspiring to broaden access to medicines for all people living in South Africa,” said Bashman.  

Stavros Nicolaou has assumed the role of deputy chairman after serving as chairman of the PTG for several years.

What can South Africans Expect from Medical Aid Schemes this Year?

Leo Dlamini – Bestmed CEO & Principal Officer

The medical aid industry is at a crucial turning point, driven by innovative technologies, and an ever-growing need for inclusive and affordable healthcare solutions.

According to Bestmed CEO and Principal Officer, Leo Dlamini, this sector is likely to witness the emergence of a more collaborative ecosystem as a result of partnerships between tech businesses, insurance companies and healthcare providers – those that offer an integrated experience – to align to shifting consumer demands.

“In fact, there are several pressure points that continue to challenge the industry,” says Dlamini. “Compliance, with its evolving regulations and policies, including those related to data protection and member privacy, are high on the list, along with balancing the budget within a tight economic environment remain key priorities.”

Increasing health costs

The cost of providing healthcare cover is increasing faster than the economic growth rate and the consumer price index (CPI) which renders medical scheme membership unaffordable for the majority of South Africans. “Balancing the rising costs of healthcare and affordability for members is delicate and critical aspect of a running a sustainable medical scheme,” adds Dlamini. “Driving the increase in costs of healthcare is also the utilisation rate (claims ratio) by the members. This is partly due to a rise in elective procedures post-COVID and the more aggressive clinical interventions. Much of this, we believe, is a consequence of people neglecting their regular health screenings, which is now translating into more serious health issues that require deeper intervention, more exploratory procedures and specialised treatment.”

The biggest cost driver in healthcare in 2024 continues to be hospitals, followed by specialists. “Although the number of hospital admissions are currently lower than they were in 2019/2020, the average cost of admission has risen substantially. This is why it is very important to establish collaborative ecosystems that are inclusive and beneficial to all stakeholders.”

Personalised prevention over cure

Now more than ever, consumers are demanding transparency, simplicity and responsiveness when it comes to their medical aid, says Dlamini, which means a focus on more digitally integrated platforms for easier access to service, information and support. “Digital health technologies, including telemedicine, AI-driven diagnostics and personalised medicine options are increasingly shaping the medical landscape, allowing for more efficient and tailored healthcare solutions.”

“There is also a growing trend towards preventive healthcare,” adds Dlamini. “Medical schemes are, therefore, focusing more on wellness programmes, health screenings and preventive measures to improve members costs and reduce downstream / future costs. This also includes recognising the importance of mental health, and providing broader coverage and services, which include access to counselling, psychiatric treatments and support programmes.”

Retaining control while innovating for the future

2024 will see Bestmed mark 60 years since inception.  Bestmed is South Africa’s fourth largest open medical scheme and the country’s largest self-administered entity.

“As we celebrate our 60th anniversary, it’s an opportune time to take stock of how we’ve fared thus far and what the future outlook is,” adds Dlamini. “Embracing technological advancements to create an integrated healthcare ecosystem, as well as focus on delivering innovative health solutions that are competitively priced are key.  Equally important is the ability to adapt our offering to the changing healthcare needs of our members whilst also maintaining our Personally Yours brand promise.”

Bestmed achieved over 20% growth rate over the last few years which Dlamini attributes to the organisation’s ability to retain existing members, attract new ones (members) with our value-for-money product offering as well as being responsiveness to members’ needs.  “As a self-administering medical scheme, we pride ourselves with being more agile and responsive to members whilst also ensuring that every interaction is not transactional but personal,” adds Dlamini.

As for healthcare advice this year, Dlamini urges consumers to take control. “Do not neglect regular screenings, particularly as you grow into the senior years. Committing to these does not only prove life-saving, but also ensures that your money is not consumed unnecessarily and that your medical scheme is able to safeguard your contributions (reserves) to cover future medical expenses. Make sure that every procedure recommended is necessary and relevant to your condition.”

“It is going to be a tough year as economic growth remains flat and disposable income under sustained pressure from high interest rates and inflation.  The national election and the outcomes therefrom will most likely impact all of us in some form or other.  As medical schemes we must remain focused on providing value–for–money from our offerings and actively working to improve the health of members,” concludes Dlamini. 

Does NHI Spell the End for Medical Aid and Gap Cover?

Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

South Africa’s National Health Insurance (NHI) Bill would, if passed in its current form, completely disrupt the medical sector in the country and would inevitably reshape the role of medical schemes as well as gap cover.

However, the implementation of NHI does not necessarily mean that medical aid and gap cover will no longer have a role to play, because there are many possible scenarios in which they will continue to be an important part of the landscape. It is important to understand your current coverage from both a medical aid and gap cover perspective so that when the NHI does come into effect, you can make an informed decision that will be best for your needs.

A long road ahead

Given the potential for the current NHI Bill to face legal challenges, we are driven by a shared responsibility to safeguard the health and well-being of all citizens. The risk of lengthy court battles cannot be underestimated, as they may inadvertently prolong the uncertainty and affect the timely implementation of essential healthcare reforms. According to Andre Jacobs, Marketing Manager at The People Company and Vice Chair of the FIA Health Exco, these challenges include constitutional, funding, affordability, policy and supply-side demand issues.

“There are also conflicting points of information within the current Bill that need to be resolved. For example, in Section 33, the Bill states that once NHI is implemented, medical schemes can play a top up role, which could mean different things. It could imply that they may only provide cover for anything that is not primary care, or that they may only provide specialised dentistry cover or advanced oncology treatment,” says Jacobs. 

“However, if one reads the definition of a health service and a health product with section 2(a) of the NHI Bill, it states that all health services will be provided by the NHI Fund and that they are the single purchaser and provider of health services. Therefore, whilst section 33 provides a role for medical schemes, it would be impossible to operate,” he adds.

A matter of speculation

The reality is that it is yet to be determined what benefits the NHI Fund will provide. This means that the role of medical schemes, and therefore the role of gap cover, is a matter of speculation at present. The structure of the current medical scheme and gap cover range may need to be adjusted to align with the NHI offering that is enacted.

This may lead to the design of products moving toward a defined benefit structure where a particular medical intervention, such as a broken leg, has a defined benefit that is paid out irrespective of the amount of cover provided by the NHI. This amount could then be utilised to pay for a private procedure. It is also likely that high-cost treatments such as specialised dentistry or advanced cancer treatment or biological medicine will not be provided by the NHI Fund. However, the regulations post-NHI will dictate what can be offered.

“If we use overseas experience by way of example, there will be a role for both National Health and private insurance products, where the private cover will provide additional benefits to complement the base offering of the NHI. For example, we often see this as providing a fast track for certain elective procedures that a person may need to address due to personal circumstances,” says Tony Singleton, CEO of Turnberry Management Risk Solutions. 

Make sure you are covered in any eventuality

“The goal of expanding universal healthcare should be supported, but rather than abolishing private healthcare, South Africa should leverage the private sector to expand the level of universal health cover. We can develop a dualistic healthcare system with the same universal coverage elements based on social solidarity principles, with a healthcare system that is accountable to the communities it serves. Transitioning to a more equitable healthcare system demands not only sound policy decisions, but also a shared commitment to overcoming societal attitudes and cultural beliefs that might hinder progress,” says Jacobs.

Private medical schemes are an asset that should be leveraged to drive healthcare innovation and foster advancements for the broader healthcare sector, and the healthcare system needs to provide meaningful choices through an accessible, inclusive, and adaptable system that caters to the diverse needs and preferences of the population.

Gap products currently play an important role in protecting your financial wellbeing in the event that medical expenses exceed what medical schemes will reimburse. In the current landscape, where the future state of the NHI is uncertain, there is still a definite need for both medical aid and gap cover to ensure access to quality private healthcare. In addition, gap cover for the use of non-Designated Service Providers (DSPs) will continue to be important even after a National Health product comes into effect.

“Before making any decisions, it is important to understand the cover provided by your medical aid and to understand any limitations that your plan may have. To assist you with this, it is useful to have your financial advisor review your medical aid coverage. They will be able to identify the type of gap product that will be most complementary to your Medical Aid plan whilst at the same time understanding your family’s unique health and financial situation,” Singleton concludes.

About Turnberry Management Risk Solutions

Founded in 2001, Turnberry is a registered financial services provider (FSP no. 36571) that specialises in Accident and Health Insurance, Travel Insurance, and Funeral Cover. With extensive experience across healthcare and insurance industries in South Africa, Turnberry offers unsurpassed service to Brokers and clients. Turnberry’s gap cover products are available to clients on all medical aid schemes, as they are independently provided and are therefore transferable in the event of a change in the client’s medical aid scheme. Turnberry is well represented nationally, with its Head Office based in Bedfordview, Johannesburg with Business Development Managers in Cape Town and Durban. The Turnberry Team’s focus on outstanding client service comes from having extensive knowledge and experience in the financial services sector and is underwritten by Lombard Insurance Company Limited. Lombard Insurance Company Limited is an Authorised Financial Services Provider (FSP 1596) and Insurer conducting non-life insurance business.

GEMS is Again Recognised as a Top Employer 2024 in South Africa

The 2024 Top Employers have been announced and GEMS (Government Employees Medical Scheme) has again been recognised as a Top Employer in South Africa. 

Being certified as a Top Employer showcases an organisation’s dedication to a better world of work and exhibits this through excellent HR policies and people practices. 

GEMS Principal Officer, Dr Stan Moloabi says this of the accolade, “The Scheme takes immense pride in this achievement as we believe in the adage, ‘batho pele’– people first.” He adds, “It is our focus on investing in our more than 400 employees that enables us to fulfil our mission to provide all members with equitable access to affordable and comprehensive healthcare; promoting member wellbeing.”

The Top Employers Institute programme certifies organisations based on the participation and results of their HR Best Practices Survey. This survey covers six HR domains consisting of 20 topics including People Strategy, Work Environment, Talent Acquisition, Learning, Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, Wellbeing and more.

To the Scheme, it is heartwarming that it is the third year in a row that it has received this recognition.

Top Employers Institute CEO David Plink says: “Exceptional times bring out the best in people and organisations. And we have witnessed this in our Top Employers Certification Programme this year: exceptional performance from the certified Top Employers 2024. These employers have always shown that they care for the development and well-being of their people. By doing so, they collectively enrich the world of work. We are proud to announce and celebrate this year’s group of leading people-oriented employers: the Top Employers 2024.” 

The programme has certified and recognised over 2 300 Top Employers in 121 countries/regions across five continents. 

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. 

References:

1. Digital health – Statistics & Facts [Internet]. Statista. [cited 2024 Jan 16]. Available from: https://www.statista.com/topics/2409/digital-health/

2. Digital Health – South Africa [Internet]. Statista. [cited 2024 Jan 16]. Available from: https://www.statista.com/outlook/hmo/digital-health/south-africa

3. Digital healthcare: the evolution of better medicine [Internet]. [cited 2024 Jan 16]. Available from: https://www.discovery.co.za/

4. [No title] [Internet]. [cited 2024 Jan 16]. Available from: https://www.statssa.gov.za/?p=10548#

5. South Africa Rural population, percent – data, chart [Internet]. TheGlobalEconomy.com. [cited 2024 Jan 16]. Available from: https://www.theglobaleconomy.com/South-Africa/rural_population_percent/

6. Sompane M. FS Health goes digital to improve services [Internet]. Health-e News. 2023 [cited 2024 Jan 16]. Available from: https://health-e.org.za/2023/12/19/fs-health-goes-digital-to-improve-services