mHealth is transforming healthcare - here's how it can change yours


Across the globe, digital innovation is disrupting industries and new markets by radically changing the means by which we engage with our wellbeing. Here's what mobile health can (and has already started to) bring to South Africa.

In Pakistan, around 85% of the population lacks access to affordable, quality healthcare. Although three quarters of medical school graduates in Pakistan are female, only one quarter of these women actually practice medicine later in life, due to strong socio-cultural norms that restrict married women from working. Happily, mHealth is changing all that.

What is mHealth?

mHealth is an abbreviation for mobile health, a term used for the practice of medicine and public health supported by mobile devices. For example, a doctor can create an Electronic Health Record of their patient's medical history and current health status. Patients can then link their medical devices or wellness wearables to an app, which can monitor vital health statistics and send updates to their doctor's smartphone or tablet.

Mobile health enhances the doctor-patient relationship by allowing virtual consultation in real time, from text messaging to video calls. It also empowers the patient to engage daily in their health. In Pakistan, the empowerment is working both ways, thanks to doctHERs.

An inspiring case study of mHealth in action

doctHERs is a novel, digital healthcare platform that connects female healthcare practitioners to health consumers in real-time by means of online technology. doctHERs transcends the socio-cultural barriers that restrict female healthcare professionals to their homes, while correcting two market failures: access to quality healthcare for underserved communities and inclusive employment for women.

In 2017, after impacting over 25 000 lives across its network of 8 telemedicine centres across Pakistan, doctHERs began to focus on target populations such as underserved and uninsured stakeholders in supply, distribution and retail. The platform serves as a case study of one of the many exciting applications of telemedicine.

Virtual care is paving the way for better health outcomes

Dr Sudeshan Govender, a General Practitioner in Tongaat, KwaZulu-Natal, is convinced that the key to improving the healthcare for both patients and healthcare practitioners lies in a digital revolution. "The adoption of Electronic Health Records has already demonstrated a reduction in mortality rates," he reports. "I strongly believe that the use of mobile and wireless technologies to help achieve health objectives has the potential to transform the face of health service delivery across the globe,"

A powerful combination of factors is driving this change towards innovation in healthcare. This is great news, because when both the patient and doctor have access to an AI (Artificial Intelligence) or a machine learning device, then mobile health can:

  • Allow patients and doctors to ask questions to a huge panel of other healthcare providers and specialists across the world.
  • Enable remote patient monitoring to support them in lifestyle interventions.
  • Incorporate voice-enabled technology, which is set to be the next frontier in human-technology interfaces.

The many applications of health technology

The possibilities in mobile health applications abound. For example, 47% of voice technology start-ups are linked to the healthcare industry, and aim to:

  • Assist the elderly and those who have difficulty with mobility, dexterity, vision or memory.
  • Manage appointments and reminders between healthcare providers and patients.
  • Assist physicians with taking notes.
  • Enhance communication for those with speech and hearing difficulties.
  • Help diagnose conditions through speech patterns by means of vocal bio markers.
  • Engage with patients to coordinate care at home for chronic conditions.

Disruptive innovation could bring basic healthcare to many in SA

In 2017, Discovery partnered with HealthTap to create Discovery DrConnect. This platform connects patients to doctors and allows for 24/7 virtual consultations, anytime, anywhere. Discovery Health also offers a wide range of digital tools available online and the Discovery App.

Given that there are around 80 million mobile phone subscribers in South Africa and that 51% of the total population has access to the internet, there is great potential now in reaching people like never before.

Dr Govender enthuses, "With South Africa imminently embarking on more universal healthcare by means of a National Healthcare Insurance (NHI) model, digitisation will be the disruptive innovation that allows us to provide accessible, affordable and quality care to the 85% of the country who are deprived of this basic human right."

The Discovery Health Medical Scheme is an independent non-profit entity governed by the Medical Schemes Act, and regulated by the Council for Medical Schemes. It is administered by a separate company, Discovery Health (Pty) Ltd, an authorised financial services provider.


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"Why I'm embracing digital tech in healthcare"

In this opinion piece, Dr Sudeshan Govender, a General Practitioner in Tongaat, KwaZulu-Natal, explains why he believes the digital revolution will improve healthcare for both patients and healthcare practitioners.


Using technology to manage your health

Life is easier, you have choices that are best suited for you, you save costs and valuable time. These benefits of technology are now also changing healthcare and how you interact with doctors - and it is all available on your smartphone with Discovery Health's Smart Series.

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