With 2016 already in full swing, there are a number of health trends and developments that have emerged which have the potential to change the South African healthcare landscape, from the digital information age that has triggered the establishment of the National Health Research Database and the rise of the empowered consumer, to the much-debated rollout of the National Health Insurance (NHI). Dr Ali Hamdulay from Metropolitan Health summarises some of the healthcare trends to watch in 2016.

The Information Age: Health Research

It’s no secret that the digital era is upon us and is here to stay. This digital era has given rise to the information age; with the click of a mouse a wealth of information is literally deposited at your fingertips.

While there are some negative aspects to this plethora of information, there are wide-reaching positive ramifications, including for healthcare. One of these developments is the National Health Research Database – an online searchable portal which centralises health-related research in South Africa (past and present).

This tool has the potential to enhance research and support health consumerism by creating broader access and exposure to relevant research. It also has the potential to improve healthcare service delivery and efficiency by assisting policy makers, researchers and managers in the allocation of resources and prioritisation of research.

The Information Age: The Consumer 

The digital age – and in turn the information age – has also given rise to empowered consumers: social-media-savvy, interconnected consumers who know what they want and who demand personalised and relevant user experiences.

This trend has started to emerge in the expectations of medical scheme members regarding how they engage with their scheme and healthcare providers, the tangible value their scheme and provider delivers and service delivery experience across the health value chain.

What this means in terms of healthcare delivery and the medical scheme environment is that, increasingly, medical schemes will be looking towards creating capabilities that foster a far sharper focus on each individual health consumer or beneficiary as they strive to understand individual members and their needs on a more in-depth level. To this end, there will be an increase in ‘health technology’: mHealth apps, wearable medical technology, patient-accessible electronic health records (EHRs), tailor-made health portals and social media platforms that can be used to support healthy behaviour change as well as help schemes to stay more in touch with individuals’ needs.

Keeping Your Finger on the Pulse

Here are some other developments in the healthcare field to keep an eye on:

  • Commentary and feedback on the NHI White Paper proposals as well as the Competitions Inquiry in Healthcare is likely to dominate healthcare news.
  • The continued trend of the increasing prevalence of lifestyle conditions. In this regard, we may see a draft regulation on the sugar tax.
  • The single exit price (SEP) of medicines and healthcare inflation will increase, putting greater financial pressure on the national health expenditure, medical scheme members and consumers.
  • The maize shortage and its impact on paediatric nutrition and growth related conditions, especially in rural areas, must be monitored. Previous research has shown modest effects of the maize price increases on maternal micronutrient status and an increased stunting among infants whose mothers experienced high maize prices while pregnant.
  • We should continue to observe the spread and impact of malaria in certain of our provinces such as the North West and Limpopo.

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