When it comes to technology and digital life, the pandemic has been the ultimate accelerant of increased online behaviour. When our movements were physically restricted, we turned to our devices to find digital solutions that enable us to continue with our lives. People have excelled by working, attending school, and even socialising online; but the most notable sector has been the rise of the health tech industry.
Says Sheraan Amod, CEO and Co-Founder of RecoMed, one of the largest online healthcare marketplaces in South Africa, “Homebound consumers have adopted new digital platforms and become increasingly confident in embracing online technology. As a collective, we’ve exercised with our virtual personal trainer, booked doctor’s appointments online and consulted with a variety of health practitioners, sometimes even over WhatsApp. We’ve experienced the advantages of saving time and enjoying digital-driven convenience.”
Amod confirms that, despite pandemic restrictions being lifted worldwide, consumer behaviour will be changed forever and as a result of our increased digital experiences, there’s a new openness to how tech can help to improve life.
In South Africa, and Africa as a whole, there’s currently a strong emphasis on how digital innovations and tech enterprises, especially home-grown ones, can solve intractable socio-economic problems on the macro scale. Tech solutions have the unique capacity to bring products and services to Africans, bypassing the continent’s dire lack of physical infrastructure, which has previously hampered development.
When it comes to healthtech, these solutions have the promise of transforming lives for the better.
Amod points out that healthtech companies in Africa have received greater venture capital funding in the past 20 months than in the entire prior decade – and this is likely to gain momentum in the coming years.
“We’re seeing a range of innovations in areas such as medical practice management, patient healthcare records, telehealth and remote healthcare, as well as low cost but high functioning medical devices. The future looks incredibly bright for African healthtech innovation,” says Amod.
RecoMed, which powers South Africa’s largest online healthcare booking platform, is experiencing ever-increasing levels of online healthcare bookings and telehealth consultations by consumers.
Lowering health costs for both patients and providers while simultaneously increasing mass access to quality healthcare is a huge challenge across Africa, but this opens exciting possibilities for healthtech solutions. We are witnessing emerging innovations that include transactional ‘pay per use’ fee structures, and consumer health platforms that are subsidised by employers or the government.
In many healthtech areas, South African innovation is on par with its global counterparts. What is likely to intensify in the near future is a greater focus on platforms enabled by Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning, as well as the implementation of digital healthcare information interchanges, where technology platforms are able to seamlessly share patient data across a single integrated platform, allowing patients to effectively access all of their own healthcare data at all times.
Increasing consumer adoption of healthtech solutions and expanding footprints
Healthtech innovators are experiencing wider penetration in the South African mass market. RecoMed, for example, is currently expanding into Kenya and seeking to add integrated products and services to its platform in 2022.
These include enabling integrated online medical payments and launching an e-pharmacy for delivery of prescription medication to consumers across the country.
Amod says, “Kenya has a vibrant healthcare sector that in many ways mirrors parts of South Africa’s healthcare system, such as having highly developed, peri-urban, and rural elements. RecoMed’s experience in South Africa positions us well to take on the challenges of the Kenyan market, as we aim to make access to and delivery of healthcare easier for consumers.”
While the pandemic has accelerated consumer use of healthtech, building trust in the online environment remains a critical success factor and in itself drives innovation and added value services offered by healthtech platforms.
What role should government play in the emerging healthtech ecosystem?
Africa’s growing, predominately youthful population needs access to high-quality medical care at affordable prices. Across the continent, governments have historically struggled in their role as providers of primary, specialised and preventative healthcare, as well as public health initiatives.
“Healthtech innovations are increasing opportunities to improve government healthcare services. Governments should continue to encourage innovation in the healthcare sector and support new programmes that are able to scale care at lower costs to large, underserved population groups. Governments also have an important role in providing the regulatory frameworks that encourage this type of innovation and focus among healthcare stakeholders,” explains Amod.
“Given the sweeping demographic and income changes across the African continent, its increasingly impressive telecom and mobile data coverage, all coupled with the continent’s ability to leapfrog key technology developments, I am extremely bullish about the future of African healthtech innovation. We can expect to see many world-leading models of delivering quality healthcare at scale, at an affordable price, leap out of Africa,” he concludes.