The first Western Cape Public Private Health Forum (PPHF) of 2016 brought together healthcare representatives from the private, public and tech innovation space to discuss methods of improving healthcare services in the current tough economic climate.

The forum, which took place at Lentegeur Psychiatric Hospital in Mitchells Plain, Cape Town, on the 1st of April 2016, focused on health economics and included four key note speakers who’s overriding message focused on the importance of quality data, interoperability and establishing mutually beneficial public-private partnerships (PPPs).

Head of the Western Cape Department of Health (WC DoH), Dr Beth Engelbrecht, opened the forum on a sombre note by stating that because South Africa’s economic growth is close to zero, the government is unable to allocate enough social spending to meet demands.

“In order to deal with the current resource scarcity, we need a longer term vision to strengthen the province’s health system in order to be resilient enough to absorb these economic realities and improve what we are doing,” said Dr Engelbrecht.

“We need to find more value for money to achieve our goals and to make the right impact. The most important ways to accomplish this is through leadership development, empowering front-line staff to solve problems as they arise, not just identify problems. We also need to improve access to primary healthcare to free up other limited resources,” continued Dr Engelbrecht.

Dr Engelbrecht added that the WC DoH is under additional pressure because it employs 31,267 people and is the largest buyer of goods and services in the provincial government.

Western Cape - EHN

Left to right: Dr Gio Perez, Dr Marmol Maryna Stoltz, Dr Carmen Christian, Dr Samulekiso Dube, Dr Beth Engelbrecht

During her presentation: Access to Healthcare in SA: Comparing Supply and Demand-focused Approaches, Health Economist and Lecturer at the University of the Western Cape, Carmen Christian, outlined the issues plaguing the country’s fragmented healthcare system, from the quadruple burden of disease to poor health outcomes, and explained how quality data is necessary to further evaluate the situation and to determine how to best improve health services.

Christian presented a brief summary of the national healthcare landscape using data from a national general household survey from 2009-2010. Around 100,000 individuals were interviewed to determine how affordable, acceptable and accessible healthcare services were, among other issues.

However, while the collected data provided some insight into the quality of healthcare services, Christian noted that more healthcare-specific, rich, quality data is required to enable a comprehensive understanding of the affordability, accessibility and acceptability of healthcare in SA. She noted that it is also vital to mobilise Community Healthcare Workers in gathering data and stressed the importance of asking the right questions to ensure that the information captured is contextual and relevant and able to help answer SA’s key healthcare challenges.

“Healthcare consumers are under researched, so it’s difficult to effectively evaluate access to healthcare in SA. More multi-dimensional research is needed to help bring about innovation in the healthcare space, which is especially important in the roll out of NHI, which aims to improve the quality, availability and affordability of healthcare in SA,” said Christian.

Chief Director of Metro District Health Services at the WC DoH, Dr Gio Perez, echoed Christian’s call for improved data collection and sharing among the healthcare sector in his presentation: Achieving Healthcare Targets Together.

Dr Perez identified the necessity of quality data in facilitating strong leadership and governance of healthcare services, and interoperability between disparate systems. “We need systems that facilitate communication, referrals, information sharing and service delivery to ensure continuity of care and efficient patient management,” said Dr Perez.

Dr Perez added that the same standards should be put in place in both the public and private sectors so that they can exchange data to share experience and expertise to ensure better care.

Chair of GP Private Practice Committee, South Africa Medical Association (SAMA) Board of Directors, Dr Marmol Maryna Stoltz, emphasised the importance of measurement and evaluation to truly understand health needs and adequately respond to them in her presentation: Private Sector’s Role in Contributing to a Healthier Future for South Africa. “We need IT systems to underpin the provision of quality healthcare services because you can’t manage the healthcare system if you can’t measure it,” said Dr Stoltz.

Dr Stoltz added that it’s a high priority for SAMA to generate and use quality data to improve healthcare services and outcomes across the country, and they are evaluating different eHealth systems to achieve this goal.

“We need to be able to share quality data in order to build effective referral networks and access actionable feedback on services in different areas. We simply can’t underestimate the importance of good data,” said Dr Stoltz.

Speaking on the need for PPPs, Business Development Manager at Philips Southern Africa, Dr Samukeliso Dube, presented numerous global case studies on how Philips has successfully partnered with public entities to improve healthcare access in local communities. In her presentation, Dr Dube highlighted Philips collaboration with Tygerberg Hospital in Cape Town to improve prenatal care to partnering with Karolinska University Hospital in Sweden to provide medical imaging equipment.

“Philips has a strong business presence in Africa; PPPs are important not only to be profitable, but also to be able to touch people’s lives for the better and to lead the drive of digitisation in healthcare,” said Dr Dube.

The Western Cape Minister of Health, Nomafrench Mbombo, closed the forum by reiterating the importance of developing PPPs to ensure a robust healthcare system in the current unstable economic climate, and how new innovative practices need to adopted to counteract budget cuts and to ensure value for money.

“Investment in healthcare generates wealth and helps to strengthen the overall economy,” said Minister Mbombo. “In the African context, we especially need to focus on patient empowerment and make people responsible for their own health, because health has become a social problem and hence a social responsibility.”

In an event first, the PPHF event organisers embraced social media by actively encouraging participation from audience members via a live Twitter feed, with the hash tag #PPHF1_16, and encouraged the audience to send questions and comments to the panellists via a designated email address for response in real-time. Future PPHFs are expected to follow a similar interactive, Ted Talk style format to encourage more participation and action to come out of the meetings.

The next PPHF is expected to focus on the quality of care and accessing funding for innovation. The date for the next event will be announced in the coming months.

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