The global CoronaVirus Disease (COVID-19) pandemic has put enormous pressure on healthcare systems that are already understaffed and overwhelmed. In South Africa, it goes without saying that the prospect of COVID-19 spreading throughout urban and rural communities is a major cause for concern. With the country currently on lockdown, it’s no longer business-as-usual but rather an opportunity for healthcare to adopt readily available technologies and innovation to survive this pandemic and establish a new norm.
Digital health – or technologies to help healthcare providers better manage patients and administration – is not new. For the last 20 years, doctors have been slowly but steadily adopting technology to help them manage numerous facets of their practice. But physical distancing and social isolation to control the spread of COVID-19 is new and presents a challenge for doctors who are trying to protect their patients, themselves and staff from infection.
Depending on whether a practice is located in suburban or densely populated areas, unique challenges arise based on the communities they serve. In suburban areas, doctors are seeing fewer patients coming to their practice. Patients seem to only make appointments if they really have to, which has a negative impact on cash flow. Practices in densely populated areas are seeing the same volume of patients – something that could be attributed to the fact that many of these practices dispense essential chronic medications.
No matter the context, doctors understand the risk of continued contact for patients, practice staff and the doctors themselves. And while patients in the suburbs are actively seeking alternatives to physical appointments, practices in densely populated areas need solutions to help them maintain social distancing.
As a result, practices are looking at technology as a mechanism to help them navigate the ‘new norm.’ Interest in cloud-based technologies has soared, particularly because it makes remote working possible and ensures the safe storage and access of patient information
Dr Brutten, a private practitioner based in Pretoria, is one such doctor who opted for an end-to-end cloud-based clinical and billing solution that would allow her to practice remotely and minimise downtime during implementation. Together with her chosen technology partner, Dr Brutten was set-up and able to use the system within one day – demonstrating the necessary agility and ease-of-use of the right technology. Before the scheduled training the next day, Dr Brutten was already adding patients and clinical notes for her consultations due to the intuitive design of the system.
While resistance to digital health has been around since its introduction, the current circumstances point to the need for a connected digital system to support the people delivering health services. The Health Professionals Council of South Africa (HPCSA) has long taken a conservative stance on digital health, particularly telemedicine. Reserving its use as “a tool that could bridge the gap between rural health and specialist services” telemedicine or (under the broader definition of telehealth), the HPCSA has acknowledged the need for doctors to consult with patients remotely amid the COVID-19 outbreak.
Doctors who have already adopted Healthbridge’s Telehealth consulting solution can quickly see from their online calendar which patents to contact for video or telephonic appointments. Being cloud-based, they can do this anywhere, and can access COVID-19 test results directly from the digital patient files stored on their clinical system.
Healthbridge Telehealth is by far the simplest solution available for video and telephonic consultations. In the absence of any need for downloads or sign-ups to additional apps, doctors and patients connect via a single click. It’s a secure way to provide care to potentially contagious patients from anywhere, at any time.
As part of making telehealth a reality, Healthbridge’s solutions offer doctors a virtual waiting room whereby they can see who is waiting for their appointment, distinguishing between in-person and telehealth consults within the same view. Importantly, the Healthbridge telehealth functionality also means doctors can care for more patients – increasing their capacity in a time when doctors are in higher demand than usual.
Executive Managing Director of Healthbridge, Luis da Silva, said: “Healthbridge’s role has always been to support doctors in running the best practice possible. The COVID-19 pandemic is a call to expand our offering in line with their needs. In addition to seeing more patients with a highly infectious disease, our clients can minimise the risk to their practice staff, patients and themselves while still operating a practice that follows normal billing and administration processes.”
He went on to say that: “Telehealth provides an enormous opportunity to both patients and the healthcare system. Analysts predict that COVID-19 is one of many pandemics yet to come and this pandemic could very well be the basis for proving the necessity for digital and telehealth as a standard practice in healthcare delivery.”
Healthbridge’s Telehealth solution is currently available to new and existing clients. To find out more about the offering, click here.