The eStrategies 2014 event kicked off on the morning of November 27th with a panel of respected representatives from the Universities of Limpopo and Kwazulu-Natal, HST, InterSystems, Ikamva National eSkills Institute, Metropolitan Health and TOMPSA to discuss the challenges affecting eSkills development in relation to eHealth.

Before the roundtable commenced the Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Telecommunications and Postal Services, Professor Hlengiwe Mkhize, opened the event by reinforcing the promise of rolling out broadband to unite the country through ‘SA Connect’ for 2020, and how it’s an imperative part of the National Development Plan (NDP) for 2030. “Partnerships between the public and private sectors need to focus on how to absorb people straight out of school by assisting them in developing their capabilities in ICT,” said Professor Mkhize.

Professor Mkhize revealed that an estimated R4 trillion is required to ensure no digital gaps in the country, which is a difficult task in light of the country’s current economic situation.

Professor Mkhize concluded by saying NHI is a good opportunity for ICT to roll out by connecting sites and linking healthcare professionals with clinics, hospitals and specialists remotely.

Chief Director at Ikamva National eSkills Institute, Mymoena Sharif, chaired the roundtable and opened by stating the challenges affecting SA primarily due to its decline in e-readiness because of the lack of eSkills. “To address this it’s necessary to move away from pilots to implementation, all while focusing on the goals set out by the NDP,” said Sharif.

Stakeholder Coordinator at University of Limpopo CoLab, Andrew Sholtz, identified his biggest challenge as not having “street credibility” due to the complex nature of their partnership with government and the university – implying that the department is not taken seriously and stunts the development of eSkills. Professor Marianne Alberts from the Medical School of Limpopo added that her three challenges with regard to eSkills are to strengthen the capabilities of clinics to provide more specialist care for non-communicable diseases (NCD); to effectively monitor patients using healthcare workers, and community interventions using multimedia resources.

Director of eLearning at the University of Limpopo, Dr Farivar Rahimi, questioned how technology can assist in healthcare; “what can technology do in what area? Often technology is dumped on clinics where no one knows how to use it,” said Dr Rahmi. He went on to identify four of his challenges, being, eSkilling of healthcare workers; tech media training to enable remote healthcare; infrastructure development and research.

Sharif noted that for all of these challenges to be resolved a platform for collaboration to share knowledge and innovation is required, along with a plan of how to build and utilise big data for NDP.

Product Marketing Manager at InterSystems Australia, Martin Wilkinson, advised the panel to “abandon industry jargon and use simpler language to encourage more people to take up technology and to use IT as an enabler to improve the patient experience,” said Wilkinson. “It’s necessary to turn data into meaningful information and present it in a way for people to understand it, act upon it and improve it.”

Wilkinson added that it’s important to empower individuals by thinking “what’s in it for me” to use the technology; if that can be answered you’ll be able to get people to use it.

Executive Manager at Metropolitan Health, Siraaj Adams, described the three projects his organisation is involved with, including a portal for collecting HIV data and tracking patients; the HIV app that was developed in collaboration with TOMPSA and their roll out of an electronic health record (EHR) that is in line with the POPI act by giving patients ownership of their health data. Adams concluded by identifying his biggest challenge as being the fact that “there are so many competitors on the market, which is confusing for doctors and forms a barrier of acceptance. We need a common platform,” said Adams.

Co-founder of TOMPSA, Dr Yaseen Khan, said that in SA the problem is “knowledge application, as knowledge shared in universities is far removed from what’s happening on the ground,” said Dr Khan. He went on to explain that from his experience an eHealth system can be successfully implemented by motivating users to use the system through effective change management, and designing an intuitive system that is easy to use and quicker than using paper.

Sharif concluded the roundtable by saying that a successful transfer of eSkills comes down to funding education and human resources; rolling out pilots to a national scale; the necessity of budgeting for human resources and not just eHealth technology; the need for a national policy that holds government accountable, and lastly ensure everything is geared towards the NDP.

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