Opinion, South Africa

Valter Adão: On the Inevitable Digitisation of Healthcare

Valter Adão from Deloitte talks about the shift in healthcare towards inclusion of other industries & technologies to solve challenges in access & delivery.

Valter Adão - EHN

Deloitte Consulting Africa Chief Digital & Innovation Officer, Valter Adão, talks about the shift in healthcare towards inclusion of other industries and technologies to solve some of the long-standing challenges in access and delivery.

Tell us about your role at Deloitte.

As the Chief Digital and Innovation Officer for Deloitte Consulting, I lead a diverse team of specialists who create a comprehensive digital ecosystem to assist organisations understand and undergo digital transformation. As part of that process, we also help those organisations uplift their digital experiences and become digital at the core to remain viable and competitive amidst ever changing digital paradigms and technologies. I also lead Deloitte’s Life Sciences & Healthcare industry in Africa, which formed the basis for the conversations we engaged in at the HASA Conference around digital transformation and innovation in healthcare.

Tell us about how innovation is impacting healthcare from your perspective.

Life sciences and healthcare have seen the rise of numerous innovations over the last century. As a result, people are living longer and the quality of life has significantly improved for many. We’ve seen advanced innovation relating to drug discovery and device technology but sadly, innovation relating to the healthcare business model hasn’t realised the same rate of adoption.

But the driver to innovate this business model is to sustain the existing healthcare ecosystem and this is where the potential for disruption exists. Critical market dynamics are converging and will ultimately trigger a significant shift in the healthcare business model for two reasons:

Firstly, the healthcare construct is not sustainable. More people are looking for quality healthcare and, unfortunately, it is not affordable in its current state. Healthcare consumerism is on the rise and patients are more informed and empowered. They are more curious about their health, they seek proactive health interventions, demand a good experience and know their rights with regards to personal data.

Secondly, we are in a digital age where technologies such as cognitive technology, artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, Blockchain, the Internet of Things (IoT), etc. will play a significant role in decentralising and democratising healthcare. This essentially means that the barriers to accessibility and affordability of healthcare will be removed.

We have already begun to see a trend in which many non-healthcare organisations, such as technology and telecommunications companies, are moving into the healthcare market. Healthcare is substantive in terms of its percentage contribution to GDP and the opportunity lies in entering the sector in spite of the traditional healthcare business model. These outside organisations pose the most significant threat to healthcare organisations because they are leveraging technologies that challenge the existing business constructs, be it in preventative healthcare, diagnosis or treatment.

When we refer to innovation and disruption, it is important to couple the adoption of technology with the correct mind-set. We have seen an emerging trend, globally, where sector-leading multinational companies, despite their size, are unable to stay ahead of the competitive curve. Significantly decreased amounts of the innovations that these organisations take to market are developed internally. We are seeing a shift toward collaborating and co-innovating with other large or micro-enterprises and start-ups. Because of this shift, organisations are better able to address the needs of the societies in which they operate. One such example is when GE made its IP available to allow its collaboration partners to innovate on the back of it. This resulted in a very rapid acceleration of the IP commercialisation, and unlocked a tremendous amount of value for the organisations.

How do you see the public health sector fitting in to this trend of co-created innovation?  

We have to change our mind-set whereby the public sector carries the burden of everything; from defining the problems that need to be resolved to funding the solutions and implementation. This construct is very old and ineffective in addressing the health challenges that we currently face, such as universal care. It is also not affordable, because if you look at the rate of change in technology, innovative technology, today, will probably not be able to compete in the next four to five years and this is a primary challenge to the paradigm of innovation and technology investment.

In light of this, the public sector should embrace the same approach to innovation and collaboration as the large multinationals. The role of government should shift from being the do-it-all, fund-it-all to one in which it creates a platform that enables innovation, from multinationals to local entrepreneurs, to best participate in serving the citizens of the country in a transparent and cost-neutral way. The government’s role can then shift to focus on innovating around regulations that will allow these innovations to be adopted and rapidly used to achieve the desired outcomes. This same method has been effectively carried out in developed economies.

Can you expand on what role you see government playing to enable innovation?  

Many of the regulations in place were developed before exponential technologies and new ways of work. Regulators need to be more curious and proactive in understanding technologies, their benefits and how to deploy them without putting anyone at risk, while simultaneously improving quality, affordability and patient outcomes.

At HASA 2017, the Healthcare Regulator stated that they are willing to engage in the topic of new technologies and how it can positively affect the industry. While this is encouraging, I would like to see the same proactive and progressive approach from the Healthcare Regulator as we are seeing with financial services regulators around the world. They are actively trying to understand technologies such as Blockchain and cryptocurrencies and their impact – good or bad – on the financial services sector. This level of proactivity is both a key to success in the digital age and critical to rapid progress.

The challenge for the Regulator is to facilitate improvements without compromising safety and ethics in any way or at any time. I would surmise that the role of the Regulator is to aid progress, ensure safety and not overprotect their sectors from disruption.

What would you say to anyone who still has resistance to the inclusion of technology in healthcare, from a private GP practice to an emerging hospital group?  

Digital technologies will play a critical role in reducing the cost of healthcare provision and therefore healthcare organisations should be looking at digital technologies to ensure that they can provide access to and deliver quality healthcare cheaper than what they currently can. Change driven by these new technologies is going to happen, and my advice to healthcare professionals and leaders of organisations would be to become curious about the changes, embrace them and figure out how to use them for the advantage of the profession.

Another component that drives adoption of digital technologies, within Africa specifically, is the fact that we have a massive infrastructural gap. By leveraging these disruptive digital platforms and solutions, we could leapfrog the gaps that exist – and thereby provide access to healthcare to individuals at the bottom of the pyramid, which is critical. These technologies could have as massive an impact on healthcare as the mobile phone had on poverty in Africa over the last decade or two.

What’s your vision for the South African healthcare landscape over the next 10 years?

Assuming that we will be living in a perfect world where there’s good collaboration between the private sector and government, a world where we have regulators that are progressive and open minded in terms of exploring and unpacking the various technologies available to us? I see a world in which many of the accessibility and affordability challenges we face in this country, and even across the continent, would have already been solved. People will have access to primary healthcare, patients will have access to information and healthcare professionals will have access to support, regardless of distances and geographies, because we will effectively be leveraging digital platforms to connect healthcare.

We will also see more adoption of AI to improve clinical outcomes, which is currently being used, very effectively, in the private sector. New technologies will be developed around actual treatments resulting in the empowerment of consumers to be more proactive in accessing information and data around their own healthcare. I see all of that happening, certainly in the private sector, and I would love to see that happening more in the public sector as well.

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