The annual eStrategies Africa forum, which took place in Cape Town between 23 and 24 November 2015, attracted key ICT development stakeholders from across the South African public and private sectors to discuss and strategize the country’s ICT roadmap to effectively implement eHealth and other eServices.

Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Telecommunications and Postal Services, Professor Hlengiwe Mkhize, lead the event over both days, which consisted of four roundtable sessions that focused on accelerating the implementation of eService and eHealth solutions, as well as a means to improve broadband roll-out and consolidate the National eStrategy.

The eHealth Roundtable focused on the potential of ICT to speed up the development of effective eHealth solutions and the provision of better healthcare. The discussion reflected on the progress made since eStrategies Africa 2014 and worked to gain consensus on a number of further actions.

The roundtable was chaired by Chief Researcher at CSIR Meraka Institute, Professor Paula Kotze, and the rest of the panel consisted of Director Information Management at the Western Cape DoH, Ian de Vega; Physician Executive at InterSystems, Dr Gene Elliott; Executive Director at HST, Gerrit Henning; CEO at eHealth Foundation, Dr Louis Rossouw; Senior Technical Officer at MRC-PATH Global Health, Martin Weiss; and Executive manager at Metropolitan Health, Siraaj Adams.

After reviewing action points from last year’s eStrategies Africa event, the panel examined the barriers to the uptake of eHealth and the needs of integrating technology into specific healthcare environments. The panellists debated the relevance of the 2012 eHealth Strategy and questioned whether it needed to be revised, as well as how to review progress and achievements as well as lack of progress against the strategy.

“The eHealth strategy was published in 2012 and has not been updated to stay on top of the technological advancements of the past three years,” said Henning. It was therefore determined that someone needs to take ownership of the document to ensure all of the above, as well as establishing the Standards Agency for eHealth, which is yet to be done.

Another focus for the panel was the call for more integrated and holistic device management in SA, specifically the need for a medical device register to be managed at national level. “When screening devices go out to the point-of-care they need to be connected to a centralised database. How do we manage this?” said Weiss. It was proposed that a single management platform would significantly help the NDoH reduce operational costs and provide device visibility at a national level. This information would aid the future deployment of devices and tests and provide the ability to track trends and manage support infrastructure and technical staff deployments.

The importance of public private partnerships (PPPs) was also brought to the table, specifically the need for collaboration on issues of interoperability, integration, infrastructure and the sharing of information in the public domain. The panel discussed these issues and shared recommendations, for example, de Vega shared his department’s lessons learned about their structured approach to eHealth in the form of the Western Cape’s Healthcare 2030 Strategy, which has a special focus on patient-centred continuity of care. “Everything in eHealth should be patient-centred,” said de Vega.

De Vega also vocalised the need for a national eHealth champion who could actively drive the country’s eHealth vision to get more stakeholders on board, as well as set milestones related to specific tasks and deliverables. “eHealth needs strategy and focus, specifically clear defined milestones. The National eHealth Strategy has no clear operational plan; I am the eHealth champion in the Western Cape, who is the national eHealth champion?” said de Vega.

The panel also questioned how to ensure equitable deployment of eHealth systems across all levels of care and geographic locations; how to ensure access to patient information across the public-private divide in light of NHI; and how to leverage private infrastructure to benefit public health objectives related to improved clinical decision support and quality of care.

Following the panel’s discussion and comment from the audience, three follow-up actions were agreed upon: the current 2012 National eHealth Strategy should be reviewed; any new technology must ensure that it can comply with the National Health Normative Standards Framework for Interoperability in eHealth (HNSF); and that an innovation competition should be set up in SA to create an enabling environment for local innovation.

eStrategies will monitor the above developments and publish a report in early 2016 to determine progress being made.

The complete eStrategies Africa 2015 event report can be viewed here.

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