A recent news report highlighted South Africa’s looming health crises due to the growing prevalence of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, asthma, and mental health conditions. This has highlighted the need for stakeholders in the health sector to embrace innovation and inject improved agility into traditional data analysis techniques.
The pandemic has ushered in a new age of telemedicine where virtual consultations are becoming the norm in First World countries. However, a different approach is needed in developing nations like South Africa, where even access to basic healthcare services is challenging. Getting people in rural communities to visit clinics or hospitals is a significant challenge given the long distances and costs of traveling there.
But this belies another major obstacle – a lack of integrated healthcare data available to practitioners to treat patients. For instance, Patient X travels to a clinic close to them for treatment. However, when they visit family in another province and need medical care again, the clinic or hospital does not have access to the patient’s healthcare history to make informed decisions.
The disruption required in the healthcare sector locally entails the combination of advanced analytics, data visualisation, and API-led integration to reinvent the underlying processes and systems that inhibit treatment regimes.
Currently, patient data spans multiple diagnostic and care systems. Greater data alignment and sharing become essential to provide a complete picture of the patient. For physicians, this can help in accelerating diagnosis and treatment while delivering healthier outcomes. This is especially vital for NCDs and identifying the symptoms as early as possible to ensure patients get the proper treatment and education about the disease.
Having access to data results in improved insights. This sees better patient care delivered regardless of whether the person goes to different clinics or hospitals. This not only saves significant time and money in the process, but also people’s lives. Providing more personalised care becomes possible. Furthermore, healthcare analysts can use the data to stay ahead of outbreaks, identify NCD hotspots, and pinpoint the underlying geographic causes behind the growth of those diseases.
The advanced analytics available to medical professionals can further save lives by empowering them with the insights essential to schedule and prioritise medical cases. They will better be able to identify patients at risk.
Data analytics can be used to help target diseases and spot symptoms and trends. This is especially important when it comes to NCDs as improved understanding resulting from data insights can be shared with the Department of Health and other service providers to improve the overall quality of healthcare in South Africa.
It will also give rise to much-improved predictive analytical models. Given the increasing COVID-19 numbers in South Africa over the past few days, predicting the rates and likelihood of infection can empower hospitals to better prepare for potential waves to limit the stress on the healthcare system. This gives them the insights necessary to prepare for future healthcare situations.
To achieve this, there are still many challenges to solve. The main one is that different healthcare providers have different data sets. There is also the small matter of data still being kept in siloes even within a specific hospital or clinic. All this limits the potential of using data proactively with important diagnostic testing information and not being able to reach the right medical professional in time, something that is critical for an NCD.
One of the ways to overcome this is by implementing a data virtualisation platform that can integrate all data sources without significant disruption. This means the healthcare professionals can focus on saving lives and not searching around for data that might not be available.
Even though the data challenge might seem intimidating to overcome if the will from the healthcare sector to do so is there, then the technology is already available that can effect meaningful change. This will result in greater efficiencies and provide a significant boost to managing the growing concern around NCDs in South Africa.
The endless demand for providing high-quality healthcare will always be the priority. Giving South Africans from all walks of life access to the life-saving care they need must be the focus, especially in the wake of the pandemic. This will require investments in more unified patient data and more intelligent analytics to improve patient care every day and in times of crisis.
By Denzil Seukanundun, Consultant at TechSoft International