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Top technology trends advancing healthcare in Africa

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Top technology trends in Healthcare.

The healthcare industry is witnessing unprecedented transformation, it is estimated that by 2020 healthcare in Africa will be needing more than $25 billion in physical assets. Technology is flipping the script when it comes to delivering healthcare solutions.

Martin Walshaw, Senior Systems Engineer at F5 Networks, says “Hardly a day goes by without arrays of shiny new kit and solutions coming on-line; recent innovations gaining the “smart” prefix include everything from diapers to sensors tracking whether medication is adequately ingested and absorbed.

A report commissioned by F5 Networks highlights some of the innovative changes that tech will bring in the healthcare industry.

The Future of Apps report looks into Medtronic, which has been leveraging IBM’s Watson Artificial Intelligence (AI) platform to develop a cognitive app called Sugar.IQ. The app taps into around 10 000 anonymous patient records to detect patterns and predict diabetic events three to four hours before they occur.

“Where we once only monitored, we will soon be able to predict and counsel before issues arise. Where high-tech care and consultancy were once confined to the clinic, they are now entering our homes and reaching developing countries from afar,” says Walshaw.

Another trend making a huge impact in the healthcare arena is telemedicine. It offers patients and healthcare providers options that were previously not available. Accessing healthcare solutions is no longer limited by geographic location. This technology allows patients in remote areas to receive the highest quality of care, providing they have an internet connection and a smartphone. Telemedicine can also save both time and money.

Microsoft and the Botswana Innovation Hub launched Africa’s first telemedicine service. Now, health personnel can conduct consultations to patients in the most remote areas via Skype for Business. Doctors can also access high-resolution pictures on the cloud, meaning they can “examine” the patient in real-time, regardless of where the patient is, and make a diagnosis and prescribe treatment straight away.

Virtual Reality
Virtual Reality is not only for gaming and watching videos, it has a part to play in healthcare. Healthcare organisations can use VR for various purposes including helping patients who are in pain. It can also help people tolerate medical procedures that are usually very painful. VR can be used to track body movements, allowing patients to use the movements of their therapy exercises as interactions in a VR game. For healthcare professionals, VR can be a teaching tool. It can be used to learn anatomy, practise operations and teach infection control.

Facebook’s Virtual Reality (VR) division, Oculus, earlier this year partnered with Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA) to build a VR simulation that places medical students and staff in rare trauma situations where split-second decisions determine whether a patient lives or dies. VR can replicate training scenarios in true-to-life fashion. These visceral, interactive exercises up the stakes compared to traditional educational tools like non-VR simulations and mannequins. These virtual scenarios based on actual CHLA case studies let doctors and students practice and learn in realistic workplace conditions.

It is estimated that by 2018, 65% of interactions with healthcare facilities will occur by mobile devices. The cloud is taking over and we will slowly forget the days when a doctor’s assistant had to look for your file to access your medical record. Hospitals, healthcare organisations and doctor’s offices are now storing patient medical records in the cloud, with patients able to access test results online at any time. Cloud technology has accelerated the way healthcare industry can use or share information across a network.

Internet of Things
Technological innovations would not be complete without the mention of Internet of Things (IOT). This phenomenon is taking the healthcare industry by storm. IOT is changing all industries and healthcare is no exception. IoT-enabled devices can provide remote data from equipment like fetal monitors. When information like temperatures, heart rates, and glucose levels are automatically transmitted in real-time via wearable devices, it enables hospitals to operate more efficiently and patients receive better care.

The IOT has already made its mark in the healthcare industry on the continent, In Nigeria, Vodacom recently partnered with Kaduna State Government to launch a mobile technology-based healthcare program, SMS for Life 2.0, in the state. It aims to increase the availability of essential medication by monitoring drug stock levels, improving the delivery of healthcare for citizens who access public health services. The telecoms company concluded the training and deployment of SMS for Life 2.0 in Kaduna, with over 250 facilities using the platform to date. This initiative is planned to be implemented in all 36 states.

Walshaw say that the challenge for healthcare providers is to master and secure the network, integrate context-aware technology and tame tsunamis of big data. He says, “Imagine the widespread roll-out of electronic medical records alone and being able to tap into the power of cloud computing”.

“The prognosis is positive; these are transformative developments in every sense of the word and they are starting to happen today. [The Internet of] Things – and life as we know it – can only get better,” concludes Walshaw.

IT News Africa will host the 3rd edition of the Healthcare Innovation Summit Africa (#HISA2017) at Vodacom World in Johannesburg between 29 and 30 August. The two-day summit will look into technology trends that are shaping healthcare in Africa.

There will be interactive panel discussions where industry leaders will tackle topics such as robotics, electronic health records, delivering personalised healthcare, artificial intelligence, IoT in healthcare, healthcare policy, telemedicine advances and the future of healthcare in Africa. Delegates attending this event will include CxOs, administrators, heads of technology, policy makers and key stakeholders from public and private hospitals, as well as health-tech entrepreneurs and academics.

By Fundisiwe Maseko
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