Addressing South Africa’s healthcare accessibility issues through technological innovation

Cathy Smith, Managing Director at Cisco.
Cathy Smith, Managing Director at Cisco.
Cathy Smith, Managing Director at Cisco.

We so often hear stories of the hardships associated with accessibility to high quality healthcare, but for many the nearest doctor, let alone specialist, can be many hours away. South Africa’s Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi recently pointed out that universal access to quality healthcare can work as an equaliser between the rich and the poor. For that reason, South Africa is looking at technological solutions to resolve the healthcare accessibility gap. The primary example of this is the Internet of Things (IOT).

Gartner, the technology research firm, predicts IOT will reach mainstream adoption in Africa in the next two to five years, while Cisco predicts that global machine-to-machine connections will grow nearly three-fold from 4.9 billion in 2015 to 12.2 billion by 2020. Here are several examples of the IOT in action, improving lives and well-being.

Innovative solutions for a thriving healthcare sector

As the healthcare sector embraces the next wave of the internet, digital technological advances can take the sector to the next level. The South African National Blood Service is an excellent example of this. In the recent past, blood was donated anonymously with donors having no knowledge of whether their blood was even used, let alone its final destination. Now, Cisco is helping the company through the Internet of Things, to track the actual timeline of the blood from the donor’s veins right through to the blood recipient’s veins. At the end of the journey, blood donors would receive a message of whose lives they have helped save. Innovative thinking such as this ensures the continued donation of blood through the personalisation of the service.

Pulling patient records at the click of a mouse

For the past several decades not much has changed as far as capturing patient data is concerned. We still waste endless hours in our doctor’s waiting rooms and the records taken of our health are usually handwritten and later placed in the receptionist’s filing cabinets.

Today the concept of connected healthcare has never been so important and this inefficient, time-consuming scenario may soon be a thing of the past. By storing patient data in a central cloud source, patient records may be kept securely and may be accessed from anywhere at any time. According to the recent Cisco Cloud Index, global cloud traffic is expected to rise 3.7-fold, up from 3.9 zettabytes (ZB) per year in 2015 to 14.1 ZB per year by 2020. The healthcare sector, which is core to a thriving and healthy society, simply cannot be left behind in the cloud migration.

Digitising remote diagnosis

Rural patients sometimes have to travel hundreds of kilometres to reach a doctor – often an impossible task. The deployment of Cisco Video Telepresence could resolve this issue. Cisco’s unified communications solutions such as WebEx and Jabber connect patients at family health clinics to specialists in larger medical centres, which means that patients can see a doctor who practises hours away from them, without leaving their home towns. These technological solutions also connect clinicians in remote areas to experts and information at medical schools, university sites and larger hospitals. Being able to collaborate with onsite specialists and having access to continuing medical education can help increase the knowledge and training of local care teams and improve their decision-making.

Technology has the ability to bring powerful industry solutions to the healthcare sector. Building these solutions requires drawing upon different components to deliver an offering that is simple, agile, and repeatable. Once more advanced technology is deployed, the healthcare sector will never look back.

By Cathy Smith