eHealthNews talked to CEO of Discovery Health, Dr Jonathan Broomberg, about their eHealth strategy to engage both patients and practitioners.   

What attracted Discovery Health to eHealth?

Discovery is fundamentally a technology-based business that relies on the ability to process large volumes of healthcare data; so eHealth is an integral part of how we do business.

It is well known that healthcare around the world is far behind when it comes to adopting the use of technology. There’s still a huge reliance on paper-based systems which are associated with tremendous risks and problems. We have been following global trends, particularly from the US and Europe, to adopt electronic healthcare data systems and we pride ourselves in taking the lead in South Africa in doing so. It’s time to bring SA healthcare into the digital age.

HealthID is a new eHealth initiative by Discovery, can you tell us more about that?

Healthcare data continuously needs improvement – both in what information is contained in that data and how is it accessed – which led to the development of HealthID.  Paper records can’t easily follow the patient and this is a major concern when a patient travels or sees multiple doctors.

We designed HealthID as an app to facilitate doctor-patient communication and patient engagement. Doctors request consent from their patients to use the app to view the patient’s health record. That information serves as a medical timeline depicting the chronological order of claims, GP visits, lab test results, etc.

During an emergency it’s even more critical to be able to access patient data quickly and we identified the need to shift from medical alert bracelets to digital information – which led us to take the development further. Emergency HealthID is an app designed to store the most pertinent and current patient information needed by emergency responders.

Since the app launched in May 2012, a half a million Discovery Health members have consented to its use by their doctors and other health professionals, and these patients can also access their own data and use it to take a more proactive approach to managing their health.

So the benefits of using HealthID impact the treating doctor and as well as the patient?  

Yes.  Often, private sector health information is fragmented because doctors work alone and not in teams. For example, a GP orders a blood test for a patient but also refers them to a specialist who may request another blood test because they can’t access the results and the patient doesn’t know where their records are stored. HealthID reduces the duplication of tests and enables access to information, resulting in improved efficiency and a better patient experience.

The app also features a medicine scripting tool that allows physicians to prescribe medicines, provides patients with information about the medicine and how it should be taken, whether it’s chronic or acute, the cost, and who prescribed it.

What we are achieving is a real industry-wide collaboration and thus far we’ve seen approximately 1,500 doctors use the app regularly to access patient health records. We also incentivise doctors who are willing to regularly engage with HealthID by paying them a higher consultation fee and we’re confident we’ll reach our target of 3,000 doctors.

How does HealthID fit in with your current Vitality offering?   

Nearly 70% of Discovery Health members are also members of Vitality and are being rewarded for getting healthier. The programme allows individuals to capture and monitor their metrics, such as BMI, glucose levels and blood pressure. Members are also rewarded for taking other screening and prevention tests such as pap smears, glaucoma tests and HIV tests.

But through HealthID, Discovery is enabling highly customisable Live Well programmes. Users with a high BMI and diabetes for example, can use the fitness assessment tool to not only get rewarded but their doctor can monitor how they are doing and make recommendations based on that progress.  Historically doctors prescribed medicine, now they can prescribe wellness programmes specifically designed to assist their patients facing serious health risks such as diabetes.

So Discovery is also using eHealth to combat chronic disease?

Chronic disease is a growing problem in South Africa and about 20% of our clients have one or more chronic diseases – such as diabetes.

One of our initiatives with regards to diabetes was to issue members with glucose monitoring devices free of charge that they can use together with a smart phone app linked to HealthID. Diabetic patients monitor their blood glucose levels, and these results are sent automatically to their smartphone and from there to both their doctor and to Discovery Health. This allows us to ensure that the doctor and patient get alerts if blood sugar levels are too low or too high.

What about the privacy concerns when it comes to healthcare data?

Privacy and the security of information in the digital age is a global concern and not limited to the healthcare sector. Discovery Health and HealthID have extensive security measures in place and take every possible precaution by continually testing security. Patient data is securely stored on a central database and not on the doctor’s system or patient’s portable device.

There is also a secure consent process involved. When the patient sees a doctor and grants them access to their data via HealthID they have to sign in on device which triggers an SMS sent to the patient for confirmation. At any time the consent can be revoked, but there hasn’t been a single instance of this or any other security breach over the past two years.

Are there plans for Discovery Health to collaborate with the Government to implement HealthID within the public sector?

I think our HealthID solution can be applied to the public health system. We are more than willing to make it available to the Government at no cost and have indicated so. Discovery is interested in working with the DoH, but there has been no significant progress yet. We will keep on trying.

What other eHealth initiatives can we expect to see from Discovery in the future?

With regards to HealthID, there are developments underway to increase functionality of the app by allowing doctors to input their clinical notes into the system, such as hospital discharge summaries and care summaries capturing courses of treatment and diagnoses. In order for this to happen, the system would need to interact with multiple interfaces and cater for doctors who use different methods of note taking such as writing, dictation, etc., which can then be structured, standardised and formatted to be shared among care providers.

Do you have any concluding thoughts on the use of eHealth in the private sector?

Digital and mobile technology is extremely useful in making information flow more rapidly, which improves quality of care and promotes consumer empowerment. A significant breakthrough in our industry is not storing or accumulating data – because all medical schemes have claims data – but instead using algorithms to create more interpretable health data. Our company processes a vast amount of claims – up to 100,000 a day – and by using algorithms we can transform the data into something far more meaningful that can be used to identify relationships and patterns. Discovery Health has over 15 years of development behind us, which is why we’re at the forefront of the industry in SA.

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