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.
Will Artificial Intelligence (AI) replace doctors? While advances in digitisation and disruptive technologies are redesigning healthcare systems every day, perhaps that underlying anxiety is why some physicians are still wary of embracing digital technology in the field of healthcare?
However, that anxiety is misplaced - new technologies in healthcare have become catalysts to our evolution – not our extinction. Doctors must be receptive to the way in which digitisation is innovating our field and our roles. Why? Because digital platforms – used effectively and with discernment, can improve the system for everyone.
Patients are going online for healthcare – so trusted sources matter
According to a study from the University of Phoenix, Arizona, 59% of adults use online resources in place of primary healthcare. International surveys published by Biesdorf and Niedermann of McKinsey in July 2014 predict that this percentage will increase to more than 75% and across all age groups.
With the internet at your fingertips, it's becoming increasingly important to find trusted sources for relevant, medical information. And all doctors want to reduce our patients' exposure to Google, where they can become entangled in a jungle of incorrect medical facts and advice – especially when they most need accurate input and quality care.
But a digital tool like Discovery Health's DrConnect gives patients access to a worldwide network of over 105 000 doctors and to a growing library of over five billion doctor-created answers to common medical questions – at no cost to users. It also allows doctors and their patients to communicate directly on a protected platform. This ensures privacy, protects confidentiality and allows for efficient, cost-effective virtual care where it is needed.
"Digital platforms – used effectively and with discernment, can improve the system for everyone."
Virtual follow-ups are convenient for both doctors and patients
Say, for example, that you want to see a GP regarding a medical condition. You can download the Discovery app to your smartphone and use it to find a Smart Network GP who is close to you.
With your consent, the doctor you visit can use HealthID - Discovery Health’s electronic health record - to get a more complete view of your health history and previous test results. This can improve patient care and reduce the likelihood of serious medical errors or duplication of pathology tests.
HealthID can also reduce administrative burden by making it easy to fill in Chronic Illness Benefit applications, and provide the doctor with the relevant scheme formulary list.
Then imagine your GP tells you to check in after a week or two to monitor your progress. Instead of taking leave and sitting in traffic to get to them again, just for a follow-up, you can schedule a virtual consultation using Discovery DrConnect. Your virtual consultation can happen by video, by voice message or by text message – whatever is most convenient. (Note - virtual consultations are only for communicating with a doctor you have already seen in the last 12 months.)
These kinds of tools make healthcare faster and simpler for everyone involved. And this is becoming increasingly valuable, because the current global healthcare trajectory is unsustainable on many levels.
Digital innovations can offer much-needed solutions
In South Africa, where 80% of the population doesn't have access to affordable, appropriate and value-based care, digital innovations could offer much-needed solutions – even to the challenges faced in implementing the National Health Insurance.
Wearable devices and biosensors can relay non-invasive 24-hour glycaemic monitoring to DrConnect's Diabetic Care Pathway - with AI only alerting us to abnormal results in our patients - and devices that record heartrate could soon monitor cardiac patients for arrhythmias. With a host of helpful digital innovations on the horizon, physicians should be optimistic about redefining our role and the healthcare industry. I certainly am. And tools like Discovery Health's DrConnect and HealthID don't replace the doctor-patient relationship – they strengthen it.
Get extensive cover for chronic conditions
Suffering from a chronic health condition like asthma or bronchiectasis? Discovery Health Medical Scheme members living with a chronic illness get the best care at all times through our suite of quality care programmes.
The Chronic Illness Benefit covers you for a defined list of chronic conditions. You need to apply to have your medicine covered for your chronic condition. You can then get full cover for approved chronic medicine on our medicine list.
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.
For almost two decades, the Umthombo Youth Development Foundation (UYDF) has given bursaries to rural youth to study medicine or health sciences. Once destined to herd cattle or work on the mines, these graduates come home uplifting communities served by the local hospitals and propelling economic growth. Is this replicable, scalable model a solution to transforming communities while providing quality healthcare services?
Twelve years ago, Richard van Zyl-Smit was named one of the very first recipients of a Discovery Foundation Academic Fellowship Award. We caught up with him for tips on how to keep your two oxygen-processors in tip-top shape.