General Electric (GE) has lauched a $6-billion healthcare initiative, Healthymagination, which is expected to address some of the challenges facing South Africa’s healthcare system.

GE announced that it will spend $3-billion over the next six years on healthcare innovation that will help deliver better care to more people at lower cost. In addition, the company will commit $2-billion of financing and $1-billion in related GE technology and content to drive healthcare information technology and health in rural and underserved areas.
According to a report published by the South African Department of Health (SADH), in 2001 a total of 23 407 South African healthcare professionals (including doctors, dentists, pharmacists, midwives and nurses) were practicing in the UK, New Zealand, Australia and Canada. In the same year, only 11 332 doctors were working in the South African public sector.
The report also cites that, as of 2008, the nursing profession in South Africa is facing a serious crisis due to the increasing loss of experienced nurses in the public health sector.
The same report states that this has contributed towards South Africa’s massive healthcare professionals shortage. Currently, the healthcare system consists of a substantial public sector and smaller but fastgrowing private sector, which is largely commercial. There is a huge disparity in access to healthcare, especially in rural areas that are significantly under-resourced in terms of equipment, resources and skilled professionals.
As part of the Hospital Revitalisation Programme, during 2008, the SADH was in the process of constructing 33 hospitals, with 11 more in the planning stages and five earing completion. The SADH continues to look at ways to address the lack of human resources by recruiting doctors from other countries.
“The Department of Health has made a great deal of progress in terms of the Revitalisation and other upliftment programmes. However, it remains one of the government’s greatest challenges to try and close the gap on access to healthcare,” says Marc Mougel, country manager: South Africa for GE Healthcare.
“The healthcare industry needs solutions, and we must innovate with smarter processes and technologies that will help doctors and hospitals deliver better healthcare, to more people, at an affordable cost.”
Mougel adds: “The shortage of healthcare resources is most prevalent in the rural areas of this country. There is a huge disparity in healthcare across South Africa, with access to the best solutions often only available to those in the middle to upper income brackets, located in urban centres near key healthcare facilities.”
According to Mougel, one of the vital ways in which Healthymagination can help to close the gap in terms of access to healthcare is through digitisation.
“A key challenge in South Africa is the discrepancy between public and private healthcare due to a shortage of equipment, resources and geographical challenges. Digitisation addresses these challenges by streamlining technologies and daily workflow, and allows healthcare professionals around the country access to reputable sources of health knowledge such as from the country’s leading academic hospitals.
"Despite the vast distances, with remote access, healthcare practitioners can share their data as well as provide analysis for consultation purposes. In practical terms, this means diseases can be diagnosed earlier, and decisions can be made faster with regards to the transfer or referral of patients that may be located hundreds of kilometres away,” Mougel explains.
Digitisation can potentially increase productivity and cost-savings, as well as provides access to healthcare – that rural patients, in particular, may never have had before. This technology is also intuitive and userfriendly, making it accessible to all levels of healthcare professionals and their patients throughout South Africa.
“This reflects the new opportunities we see in healthcare,” Mougel added. “Our focus on innovation – affordable digital x-ray machines, portable ultrasounds, more affordable cardiology solutions – will help save costs for the public and private health sector, and the community. This will assist in leveling the playing field in healthcare.”
Under Healthymagination, GE has committed to achieving the following by 2015:
* Invest $3-billion in research and development to launch at least 100 innovations that lower cost, increase access and improve quality by 15%. GE will also apply its expertise in services and its suite of performance improvement tools for impact in these areas. These actions will strengthen GE Healthcare’s business model.
* Work with partners to focus innovations on four critical needs to start: accelerating healthcare information technology; target high-tech products to more affordable price points; broaden access to the under-served; and support consumer-driven health.
* Expand its employee health efforts by creating new wellness and healthy worksite programs while keeping cost increases below the rate of inflation.
* Increase the ‘value gap’ between its health spend and GE Healthcare’s earnings to drive new value for GE shareholders.
* Engage and report on its progress. GE will engage experts and leaders on policy and programs and create a GE Health Advisory Board.