First steps towards an integrated healthcare industry

The South African healthcare industry, like its international counterparts, is extremely complex.

July 24, 2012

By Len de Goede, Vice President Systems Integration, T-Systems in South Africa

The South African healthcare industry, like its international counterparts, is extremely complex. It is characterised by private clinics that deliver primary healthcare services – mainly to members that belong to medical schemes, Government ‘in-patient’ clinics that provide some primary healthcare services to ‘uninsured’ people as well as sophisticated private hospitals and global pharmaceutical manufacturers. This creates as a multi-layered and encompassing healthcare picture, if you will.

Len de Goede

Len de Goede

In this light, we are seeing a concerted drive towards a National Health Record which will create one, transparent picture for the patient and their service provider, based on a user-friendly system that mitigates repetitive information capturing and importantly provides real insight into the health condition of the country.

An integrated healthcare solution will play an important role in the establishment of a National Health Record and could also offer additional benefits such as the implementation of a shared services model within healthcare groups.

This will be achieved when access to patient records becomes a reality, allowing for the better management of healthcare risks. It will also provide a better understanding of the calculations of healthcare tariffs paid by medical scheme members as well as insight into what should be considered ‘fair rates’ with regards to payment from medical schemes to the healthcare service providers. One thing is clear; there will be a significant saving in costs by eliminating duplication and reducing unnecessary spend on non-healthcare providers.

Saying this, primary healthcare services must be affordable yet the quality of service cannot be jeopardised. Whether patients have a specific diagnosed condition managed by their Medical Scheme Clinical staff, visit their doctor with various complaints, have blood samples submitted for testing or a scan performed – infrequently or on a regular basis – access to trusted information is a key aspect of innovative medical care.

It promises to deliver healthcare to South Africans that meet the highest possible standards in quality and efficiency. Furthermore, affordability and accessibility to primary healthcare services is one of the most essential considerations in the development in any country’s healthcare strides and using technology as part of an eHealth strategy is a crucial differentiator.

State-of-the-art Information Technology (IT) solutions provide an ideal solution in support of innovative medical care. This allows medical staff such as doctors and nurses to focus on healing patients and providing them with the best care necessary while technology handles the rest.

State-of-affairs

Currently, a lot of hospitals and clinics within the public and private sector run autonomously from one another. For example, a healthcare provider may run a number of hospitals or clinics that operate in silos; orders for the clinics are placed individually and financial reporting is provided separately.

Ideally, these clinics should run in a shared services environment that provides centralised financials, forecasting and purchasing. This in turn improves efficiencies and operational elements such as material requirements planning.

In order to realise these shared, centralised environments one has to consider the current IT infrastructure. It is not feasible to run individual healthcare solutions at each of these clinics and hospitals as it is more expensive than a centralised solution which will drive down the total cost of ownership (TCO).

We are moving towards providing integrated and pervasive solutions and services to the healthcare industry. Importantly, these shared, centralised environments can now be attained by most healthcare providers by partnering with the right service provider.

Foundation is key

In order to establish centralised, integrated and shared environments, healthcare providers have to – from the get-go – lay a rock solid foundation based on sound principles and underlying technologies.

Unfortunately, due to the volatile economic climate, companies are increasingly opting for point solutions to “save” on IT expenditure. Whilst this might demonstrate some benefits in terms of initial capital outlay, it is quite short-sighted as the foundation and tools are simply not there to develop an integrated, company-wide solution. In fact, by increasing the complexity of IT solutions, companies are increasing their TCO.

The integration of the healthcare sector can speed up communications, accelerate treatment, and deliver secure access to information, improving the quality of healthcare.

These shared and centralised environments consolidate important medical, administrative and financial information, boosting efficiency and the standard of care.

And importantly, it sets the foundation for a National Health Record.