All around the world, it seems public and private healthcare systems are suffering from structural issues.
In Africa, the biggest challenges include affordable access to critical healthcare services, a high ratio between the numbers of doctors versus patients, and an ever-expanding population that’s straining our public health budgets.
But despite this negative prognosis, there is hope. Various technologies are coming together, to fundamentally re-shape the way that healthcare services are delivered.
Let’s look at things from the perspectives of the three major role players: the consumers, the healthcare facilities (hospitals and clinics), and the medical insurers.
Fitness and healthcare services have stimulated the arrival of a new form of personal computing: wearable technology. Wearables, and even ‘digestibles’, allow us to measure everything from heart rates, to blood pressure, physical activity, sleep patterns, and much more.
Sensors are able to analyse data in real-time, and send alerts to us and our doctors whenever any of the numbers go out-of-kilter. Because of this, wearables are being touted as the biggest way of shifting medical care from ‘treatment’, to ‘prevention’. More information gives us a hard, visceral sense of how our actions impact our health. It motivates us to start making healthier life-choices, and shows us the benefits of nutrition, exercise, and taking the right medication.
Another area of massive untapped potential is telemedicine. Considering the makeup of our country, many patients in remote areas could benefit from specialists who diagnose and treat symptoms remotely, in the form of ‘virtual clinics’. As internet connectivity speeds up, and finds its way into even the most remote regions, telemedicine starts to become a viable option, particularly in-app telemedicine. Just last week, Carte Blanche aired a story on how Mobile app technology is bringing doctors and patients closer than ever across great divides, to improve diagnoses and sharing of all-important disease-defying data.
For hospitals and clinics, using technology to digitise processes and connect the various areas of the facility creates new efficiencies and cost-reductions. There’s an opportunity to move away from the paper-based clipboards and the silos that frustrate customers. Instead, facilities can start tracking patients across the entire lifecycle of admittance, to diagnosis, treatment, and ultimately discharge.
These efficiency gains mean that many of the lower-level administrative tasks can be simplified or automated, freeing up hospital staff to focus on their core mandate of delivering exceptional medical care. For hospitals, it is an opportunity to move closer to the vision of value-based, patient-centered care models.
And by helping customers to recover faster, and moving them to home-based care as quickly as possible, revenue-per-bed can rise. In fact, having an accurate financial view of every area of the facility, every piece of medical equipment, is beneficial for everything from budgeting to strategy.
For medical aids, wearable technology enables new incentives for customers to lead healthier lives – and reduce the likelihood of them making expensive medical claims. We’ve already seen the beginnings of this with one local insurer and their integration of fitness wearables into their offerings. They also provide a telemetry device in their insured vehicles that alerts service providers to accidents.
Insurers’ risk analysis frameworks can suddenly become far more accurate when they know how consumers are driving or how active they are in general. They’ll be able to tailor their offerings to an individual based on a very detailed view of his health and lifestyle. Premiums can change depending on the time of the year, or based on a variety of other factors.
It seems the healthcare sector is ideally positioned for rapid technology disruption.
Some may argue that it’s the most important area to focus our technology efforts… unlike any other sector, the exciting innovations emerging in this field have the potential to increase our lifespans, and improve the very quality of our lives.
Interestingly, what makes this more compelling is the increasing overlap between the Insurance Industry and Healthcare. Overlapping industry processes and services is a general trend that will dominate tech disruption in the next five years.