Fighting Covid-19 smarter, not harder – tech to the rescue

South Africa has a proud global record of innovation in the healthcare field, perhaps exactly because our researchers, scientists and physicians face such a daily mountain of disease and trauma. Instead of buckling under, they make a plan, and respond as best they can – within limited resources. The tech boffins soon realised they could collaborate, and today we have solutions, several of which are the envy of the First World, never mind our peer countries. This story describes one such, a sophisticated, but easy-to-use cell phone application that will render medics safer from the coronavirus by enhancing communication between care-givers. When communication between caregivers goes awry, it causes a disproportionate amount of suffering and often, death. A full 70% of hospital mishaps and adverse events are precipitated by poor communication, surveys show. These guys are onto something; it’s estimated that the smart hospital market will grow from $7.46 billion in 2017 to $62.28 billion by 2023. Echoes of what our former Health Minister, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi said some years ago; we’ll never train enough medics to keep up with our population growth and disease burden – we have to turn to technology to cope. – Chris Bateman 

Technology to the rescue of Covid-threatened medics

By Thulasizwe Sithole

A cell phone application enabling healthcare workers to co-ordinate patient care and jointly monitor an individual’s progress and solve treatment challenges is drastically reducing doctors and nurses’ exposure to the Covid-19 virus.

Recent in-hospital Covid-19 outbreaks reveal a disproportionate number of healthcare staff infected and taken off the front lines, including a handful of tragic, arguably avoidable healthcare worker deaths. South Africa’s Covid-Command is scrambling to secure stocks of personal protective equipment, (PPEs), for them in the midst of a global procurement war. Frightened nursing unions and doctor bodies have begun exerting their right to self-protection and are seeking clarity on their legal rights in what will soon be an unprecedented ‘all hands-on deck,’ highly abnormal practice environment.

Recently offered free for use in the public sector, the cell phone application has become a popular and timely tool to help combat the Coronavirus.

Tech reduces healthcare work-pressure

Andrew Davies, CEO and co-founder of HealthCent which developed the Signapps-Serve application believes technology and coordinated communication will play, “a defining role in assisting healthcare providers to navigate the current pandemic and ensure patients receive optimum care within a stretched healthcare system’.

The versatile application was two-years in the making and reduces vital treatment time for infected patients, thus proving to be a life-saver. It’s globally estimated that 70% of hospital mishaps and adverse events are precipitated by poor communication. With the rapid local spread of the coronavirus since early March, the application has come into its own. HealthCent provided a lesser version to the public healthcare sector last year, but decided to provide the Premium, more versatile upgrade to support the Coronavirus effort, also at no charge, more recently.

Piloted by Life Healthcare across their 12 hospitals last year, the app was later adopted by the Charlotte Maxeke Academic Hospital’s paediatric and orthopaedic wards, plus burns units at Baragwanath Tertiary, Edendale Hospital (Pietermaritzburg), and the Red Cross Children’s Hospital (Cape Town) where the surgical department staff are also benefitting.

Staying in touch but away from infected patients

Says Davies, “I think the biggest advantage of the app is that it limits the number of doctors in direct contact with patients, especially the highly qualified, critically-needed specialists (see graphic). We can create visibility around a patient while protecting doctors who don’t have to be in contact with the patient,”.

The app has a broadcast channel which can be used to share care pathways and protocols needed by a medical team, a one-on-one mode and a one-to-many function. More importantly it can be used to aggregate patient data and insert specific conversation strings into multiple conversations while enabling the simultaneous display of graphs and individual patient records.

“It’s patient specific, and a case file can link a healthcare record to the conversation. Because it’s a case management tool, Covid-19 healthcare workers wanted the capacity to manage threads from a desktop. We’ve also created our own forms engine to capture data and combined this with the messenger,” adds Davies.

Doctors are welcoming the app for more than just Covid protection.

Reducing stroke harm

Says Dr Karisha Quarrie, regional clinical manager and project lead of Life Healthcare’s Stroke Restore programme, “simple and timely interventions, particularly in the early stages of a stroke, have a dramatic impact on the patient’s speed of recovery and rehabilitation,”

“Signapps will play a pivotal role in our efforts to improve communication between caregivers, allocation of resources, sharing of data, and the timely administration of therapeutic interventions to our stroke patients,” she added.

According to a report by Orbis Research, the smart hospital market will grow from $7.46bn in 2017 to $62.28bn by 2023, pushed by governments’ initiatives for the implementation of IT solutions in healthcare and an increase in the number of skilled IT experts globally.

The Philips Future Health Index 2019 report reveals that while SA has a keen appetite for digital healthcare technology and remote access to digital health records, only 40% of healthcare professionals are using digital health records, potentially in part because of challenges around infrastructure and the cost of investing in this type of infrastructure.

In 2016, private hospital network Netcare implemented technology to mitigate infection risks across a multi-hospital system in 47 of its facilities.

Adds Davies. “A study by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organisations identified that communication is by far the single biggest cause of delay in treatment in acute environments.”