While no one is disputing the need to provide quality healthcare to every South African, the NHI has been met with some trepidation and concern about its feasibility. And even though there are a number of questions still unanswered, one thing is certain – it’s inevitable. Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize has stated that NHI will happen but without clarity on how it will work what can we do to prepare for its implementation?
The role of technology
Technology is an integral part of making NHI work. Having a central payer, coordinating care between providers and adequately tracking treatment and disease trends can only be done with digital health systems that can securely exchange relevant information.
It is unclear how private practitioners will contract to the government to provide healthcare services but what we can safely predict from the advent of NHI is that paper-based systems will become a thing of the past. On a primary level, solutions that allow doctors to manage patient files, access test results, capture clinical notes, create referrals, follow up appointments reminders, prescriptions and sick notes from a digital system will become the norm.
Although not currently at the top of the NHI snag list, data and technology readiness is a concern when it comes to rolling out a single national payer system. Private practitioners are encouraged to migrate to a paperless system well ahead of the 2026 deadline for the roll-out of NHI. If not for the benefit of your practice in the short to medium term, but also to offer the relevant deciding bodies data-based information about how and why certain aspects of the Bill need to be addressed from a private practitioner’s point of view.
Technology that provides data-driven healthcare
A lot of the gaps in information about the workings of NHI are a result of a lack of usable, quality data. To transition to a modern, connected healthcare ecosystem, a step in the right direction would be to start collecting the right data and applying the key insights from that data to issues concerning the cost of care and its quality, among other issues.
It’s not the only component but, in order to achieve healthcare that is affordable, efficient and equitable, we need data to know more about our systems and our population health. Our current data shows us that there is what’s been called ‘an epidemic of overtreatment’ in the private sector and a growing disease burden across the board.
But healthcare leaders have argued that NHI as a health system is not solely about treating illness for free but preventing disease, too. Working from this premise, predictive analytics technology, such as AI together with data, can be used to transform the prevention and early diagnosis of chronic disease.
Although this may seem futuristic, private practitioners in South Africa are already using systems that incorporate AI technology. For example, iHealth is a system that uses AI technology and deep machine learning to automatically analyse specialists ICD10 and procedural codes to predict invoicing and other administrative functions. The trend of using AI and similar technologies is only going to rise as we move towards NHI in an already complex healthcare environment.
Technology that automates reality
One of the primary concerns around NHI is the stark shortage of specialists, doctors, nursing staff and other healthcare workers. And the reality is that we can’t produce enough doctors at the rate of the growing reliance on our healthcare services. In SA’s context, technology like robotics could be instrumental in supporting doctors and medical professionals with their administrative burden and diagnostic precision that is likely to increase as the demand for services increases.
Automating and streamlining time-consuming tasks will give healthcare professionals more time to use their expertise in treating patients. Private practices around the country are already opting for systems that allow them to do automated patient benefit checks and automated reconciliations to help reduce the administrative burden and the possibility of errors. These same practices are also sending automated SMSes to communicate with their patients. Technology’s ability to automate routine practice admin has the power to save healthcare professionals and their practices’ hours of valuable time and effort.
Technology and the NHI
Technology has the ability to not only simplify administrative burdens but can provide us with much-needed information about our health system and our population. And the information we generate as a connected system will help fill in gaps of information that is required to ensure a well-managed, healthy, population.
The question of how much it will cost, how will it work and will there be the necessary transparency and accountability to serve South Africa’s healthcare needs is still on the table. But what is evident, is that technology’s role in ensuring an NHI that is affordable, equitable and of good quality, is indisputable.
If you need help moving from a paper-based practice to a technology-driven practice, then click here to request a complimentary assessment of your practice’s processes.