Shifting demographics, cost pressures, policy changes, consumerism, and rapid advances in technology will change the face of healthcare as we know it. This is according to Life Healthcare Group CEO, Dr Shrey Viranna, who talks about the trends that are shaping the future of healthcare in South Africa.

Populations are becoming increasingly unhealthy, driven by sedentary lifestyles, high personal stress levels, and poor dietary habits. The result is an increasing disease burden on health systems. In South Africa alone, 50 people die every day due to diabetes, while an additional 35 lives are lost daily due to respiratory diseases.

Changes in policy and regulatory environments

Globally the healthcare regulatory environment is complex and evolving. In South Africa, the National Health Insurance (NHI), Medical Schemes Amendments Bills and outcomes of the Health Market Inquiry will change the healthcare landscape fundamentally.

The goal of universal healthcare will require strong partnerships between public and private players. If we look for creative solutions and leverage the best from the public and private sector, we have an opportunity to significantly improve healthcare access and affordability in the country. The introduction of NHI presents real opportunities for public-private partnerships and innovation.

Patient-centric healthcare

As people become accustomed to personalised, digital offerings in retail and banking, they will expect similar experiences when it comes to their healthcare. Connectivity and access to information mean healthcare consumers are becoming more knowledgeable and better able to compare quality and outcomes across clinicians and medical service providers.

Patients also demand convenience. In Europe, for example, home-based care is gaining traction, while personalised care, walk-in services and virtual queuing are also becoming popular. Evaluation and measurement of patient experience has fast become international best-practice and assists in ensuring patient-centred care remains a priority for healthcare service providers globally. To this end, Life Healthcare publishes patient experience scores in real-time.

Technology and healthcare access

The World Health Organisation (WHO) predicts that rapid advancements in technology will drive better quality of healthcare and enable greater access to services by providing more diverse treatment models whilst lowering costs.

Similarly, the 2018 Philips Future Healthcare Index (FHI) found that technology and digital innovation, artificial intelligence (AI), and connected care will be important enablers of healthcare access and ground-breaking treatments, despite the impact of rising costs on affordability.

One area already benefitting from technological advancements, and which will continue to grow is diagnostic imaging. Making use of smarter technology means healthcare providers can enhance the patient experience by lowering the risk of diagnostic errors while speeding up the provision of better, more affordable treatment.

We have seen the growing impact of diagnostics within integrated care and Life Healthcare has invested in these capabilities by acquiring the leading European provider of complex molecular and diagnostic imaging services, Alliance Medical Group, to strengthen our offering in this field and provide the best experience to patients across the whole continuum of care.

Furthermore, advancements in surgical technology are making a positive impact on surgical outcomes for both the patient and the surgeon. Robotic-assisted surgery, for example, allows minimally invasive procedures which reduces the need for blood transfusion and benefits patient outcomes in terms of less post-operative pain, reduced risk of wound infection, as well as a shorter hospital stay and faster recovery.

As healthcare providers we must develop innovative healthcare models, whilst continuing to focus on efficiency, quality and patient-centricity. We must also build strong partnerships to improve healthcare access and affordability. Despite its challenges, the future of healthcare in South Africa can be bright.

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