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How Covid-19 may impact the implementation of the NHI

By Opinion Time of article published Dec 22, 2020

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One of the chief outcomes of the Covid-19 pandemic in the South African context has been the improved collection and use of health data. In fact, this could prove beneficial for the country's health system in future, particularly the soon-to-be implemented National Health Insurance (NHI).

This is according to Paul Cox, Managing Director at the Essential Group of Companies, who explains that with South Africa – and the rest of the world – being forced to make a digital shift in the wake of the pandemic, our health sector was not spared. “This was spurred on by the need for health records to be made digital as traditional paper records could potentially transmit the virus among healthcare workers. In turn, this led to the expedited adoption of new technologies which have made data collection and analysis far easier and faster.”

Additionally, he notes that this has been augmented by the boom in digital healthcare innovation in the country under Covid-19. This has ranged from increased adoption of telemedicine and the introduction of government’s official Covid Alert SA Bluetooth contact tracing app; to the heightened use of personal health monitoring apps and wearable devices such as smartwatches for tracking changes relevant to medical conditions[3], including Covid-19.

Cox believes that data extracted from these and other sources could potentially transform healthcare and deliver better outcomes for patients. “When health practitioners have access to a patient’s complete health data, they can offer more efficient, and more personalised care. Additionally, health data used in scientific research could potentially accelerate the development of new medical products and treatments for those who need them.

“With the increased uptake in personal health monitoring apps and devices, patients have greater insight into their own health and are able to make lifestyle changes accordingly, which can further augment their care outcomes and positively impact their quality of life.”

The MD says that having access to health data will also be beneficial for healthcare systems in terms of speeding up diagnoses, preventing disease by identifying transmission pathways, and increasing the effectiveness, quality and safety of treatments. “Moreover, it could enable better coordination of care amongst health providers to ensure that a patient’s health conditions are managed appropriately.”

He adds that advantages for the NHI include the ability to design better care pathways, having access to insights for strategic planning, and consequently being able to utilise healthcare resources more efficiently.

“While many people are rightly concerned about sharing their data, and how it will be used, accurate data will be vital for the NHI healthcare system’s ability to save lives. It is therefore critical that the Protection of Personal Information Act is adhered to when data is collected and shared,” concludes Cox.

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