Business Development Manager: Healthcare at Apple Reseller Digicape, Vernon Foxcroft, explains how a centralised electronic health record (EHR) can be possible in light of National Health Insurance (NHI).
Imagine a world in which all healthcare data was centralised. A world where both patient and provider had access to a patient’s full health record. One where an outpatient, recovering from a heart attack, could share their heart rate with their cardiologist remotely, who would then be able to monitor their patient’s progress more frequently.
While it may seem somewhat idealistic, particularly given our local healthcare context, Apple is working to do exactly that.
The imminent arrival of NHI
The aim of government’s NHI plan is to ensure that all South Africans receive the same level of healthcare, irrespective of their socioeconomic status. The need for this is indisputable. However, with improved healthcare access comes increased pressure on already overburdened providers, resources and facilities.
Herein lies the greatest opportunity for technology. Through improving comprehensiveness and accuracy of healthcare data, by giving patients greater responsibility for their own health outcomes, and through improving the consistency and quality of treatment, technology can play a role in alleviating some of the pressure placed on a taxed healthcare system.
We’ve seen an influx of consumer-orientated wearables, which aim to provide users with a clearer picture of their health status. For the potential of these devices to be fully realised, the data collected needs to be integrated across all devices, and there needs to be governance over its storage. It is also vital that all data is secure and presented in a user-friendly format.
Centralised, patient-owned health data
This is where Apple has the advantage. Apple has gone to extreme lengths to create an infrastructure that ensures the privacy and protection of data.
Not only is health data extremely secure, but Apple’s HealthKit is built into the operating system; a programming framework accessible via iOS to all application developers. This central framework plugs into iOS wearables such as Apple Watch, offering users an activity tracker and health vitals, results and records; all in one accessible, user-friendly hub that overcomes previous language barriers through its multi-linguistic functionality.
The user can then choose to share this data with healthcare providers, meaning that these providers receive a consistent and comprehensive medical history and lifestyle overview, which results in a better-informed treatment plan.
Apple’s Medical ID, available on all iOS devices such as iPhone and Apple Watch, takes this a step further. All pertinent health information such as pre-existing conditions, blood type, emergency contact numbers etc. can be pre-loaded and accessed even on a locked phone, in an emergency situation. In an accident scenario, having immediate access to this type of information could lead to a quicker response and more appropriate treatment, which can be the difference between life and death.
Patient non-compliance, technology costs and access are major challenges
The cost of technology is a huge hindrance, particularly given South Africa’s socioeconomic landscape and vast disparity between segments of our population. In addition, access to healthcare facilities as well as the internet is limited in rural areas.
Patient compliance is also a massive challenge for healthcare providers. For a centralised health record to be successful, you are assuming that the patient is ready to take responsibility for ensuring its comprehensiveness and distribution to relevant parties.
Merging a fragmented medical landscape into one central database – where all the various service providers have access to patients’ comprehensive, consolidated healthcare data – seems like an impossible dream at present. But if we tackle this task in sizeable chunks, we will start to see a massive improvement. With such a desperate need for transformation, even slight and slow progress will have significant impact.