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SA needs to co-ordinate healthcare

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There is a need for a concerted effort to increase access to healthcare in South Africa, with its cost one of the top barriers to coordinating healthcare in the country.

In fact, South Africa scored just 56.7 out of a possible 100 points in the first edition of Royal Philips’ Future Health Index (FHI), an extensive international study which explores how countries around the world are positioned to meet long-term global health challenges through integration of health systems and adoption of connected care technologies.

The findings from the study provide valuable insight into the perceived state of readiness of markets around the world to benefit from integration across healthcare systems, and identify significant areas where healthcare systems must transform to deliver value-based care in the future.

Examining the perceptions, behaviours and attitudes of both patients and HCPs , the FHI focuses on three important factors to help countries become better poised to meet current and future healthcare challenges: access to healthcare; integration of the current health system; and adoption of connected health technology and systems.

South Africa ranked eighth out of 13 countries; the results of the survey highlight the need for a more concerted effort to increase access to healthcare, and conversely indicate a stable performance on healthcare integration, and above average performance on connected care technology adoption.

South Africa’s FHI score of 56.7 is based on low access to healthcare resources but a high adoption of connected care technology.

Both HCPs and patients note improving access to healthcare services as something the government should prioritise to improve public health. Additionally, both patients and HCPs think the government should build and improve hospitals and other healthcare facilities (forty seven per cent (47%) of patients and thirty-nine per cent (39%) of HCPs).

In interviews, HCPs highlighted the limited amount of resources, lack of staff and education as current challenges for the market, all of which impact healthcare access.

South Africa’s healthcare system is one of the lowest-rated by its patients among the 13 countries surveyed. HCPs and patients differ on the effectiveness of the health system in meeting the needs of the population, particularly when patients compared the public and private systems.

Compared to patients, more HCPs agree that healthcare available via the health system in South Africa meets patients’ needs (forty six per cent (46%) HCPs vs. thirty eight per cent (38%) patients).

Overall, cost is a significant barrier to healthcare in South Africa – much more so than any other market surveyed. Among patients who have not visited a HCPs when they needed to, about half (47%) say that they did not visit because they could not afford it. This is significantly higher than any other market, including other emerging markets.

Even HCPs acknowledge this problem, as sixty-three per cent (63%) of those who have had a patient not come to see them when they had a medical reason to do so believe that patients have avoided coming to see them for the same reason (unable to afford).

Cardiology issues are prevalent among patients in South Africa; about one-third (31%) of patients surveyed in South Africa have had experience with a cardiology-related issue.

Cardiology patients tend to have more negative perceptions of the national healthcare system than the average patient. However, they are more knowledgeable about connected care technology, suggesting an opportunity to use technology to improve these patients’ outcomes and experiences.

Patients with cardiology-related issues are more likely than patients in South Africa overall to use a medical device to track their own health indicators (36%) of those with cardiology-related issues who track health indicators do so with a medical device versus 27% of patients overall who track health indicators with a medical device.

Although South Africa’s health system is not considered to be very integrated at present, patients and HCPs  alike see a clear value in future integration.

The need for integration is apparent to patients, as 77% report having to repeatedly provide  the same information to multiple doctors; this scenario is more common among patients with a history of cardiology issues (82%).

The majority of HCPs agree that integrated health can improve the health of South Africa’s population in a variety of situations, including when patients are being  treated (89%), diagnosed (89%), or using health systems for treatments that will prevent medical conditions from occurring  (87%).

Despite financial and cost related issues with healthcare in South Africa, openness to connected care technologies raises South Africa’s connected care technology adoption sub-index score above the average, with South African HCPs and patients acknowledging the benefits of connected care across the health continuum (the health continuum covers the full range of consumer and patient needs from healthy living and prevention to diagnosis, treatment and home care).

Three-quarters (75%) of patients are interested in posing medical questions to their HCPs online, and 71% of HCPs are also interested in this type of interaction. In interviews, HCPs feel that patients will see time and money efficiencies as a result of connected care, while HCPs will benefit from streamlined processes.

Patients and HCPs agree that individuals are fully responsible for managing their health. Most patients (80%) and HCPs (69%) believe that individuals should have full responsibility for preventing poor health. Half (54%) of HCPs believe that patients have the knowledge they need to manage their own health effectively, compared with 81% of patients.

“The Future Health Index has uncovered a number of significant areas where our healthcare system must transform if we are going to succeed in delivering long-term value-based care,” says Ntutule Tshenye CEO of Philips South & Southern Africa. “It is encouraging to see South Africa starting from a reasonably strong position in its readiness to adopt connected digital technologies that will ultimately drive transformation.

“The outcome of the South African report provides valuable insight for patients, HCPs and policymakers on where attention needs to be focused to increase levels of access, integration and adoption of health technology to improve healthcare outcomes and patient experience in the long term.”