Perhaps more than any other sector, healthcare has been under significant pressure since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic early last year.
By Tony Nkuna, senior solutions consultant and integrations specialist at TechSoft International
The demands placed on healthcare facilities to manage the influx of patients while still delivering quality care to non-Covid related cases have been immense.
And then, in South Africa, there has been the added challenge of ensuring data and technology systems meet the Protection of Personal Information Act (POPIA) compliance deadline of 1 July or risk significant financial fines and reputational damage, amongst others.
At first glance, these might appear to be completely unrelated to one another. And yet, to help drive change and bring about positive healthcare outcomes, hospitals have had to turn to data solutions to drive faster and smarter decisions. And this is where the overlap with POPIA occurs, especially when it comes to personally identifiable information (PII) and how data is captured, stored, used, and managed in the tightly controlled regulatory environment of healthcare.
The pandemic has resulted in healthcare facilities needing to triage other cases due to fear of infection and the limited number of beds available. Many people have had to resort to telemedicine and online consultations to get treatment.
In a country with a significant disconnected population, this has been incredibly challenging. And yet, service providers have adopted a variety of solutions that include video conferencing, online consultations, and even telephone services to help address a significant need at a time when healthcare is buckling under the third wave of infections.
Advanced analytics has become instrumental in scheduling and prioritising medical cases even for patients without internet connectivity and access to video technology. It has been used to spot patients at risk and support treatments, particularly for elderly patients with many underlying conditions.
Furthermore, data analytics can help target diseases, spot symptoms and trends, and share information with the government health agencies in case of outbreak clusters.
So, even if most of the population might be unable to access technology innovations themselves, healthcare providers can and have been providing those vulnerable populations with treatments they might not previously have been able to get.
But when it comes to the data itself, providers face a two-fold challenge. On the one hand, is POPIA compliance. And on the other is an environment built on legacy systems, a siloed approach, and using different data sets. Of course, in such a mission-critical environment, it is not possible to rip and replace the old way of doing things with a more agile and integrated data-led approach that still meets regulatory compliance.
Instead, the healthcare sector requires a data virtualisation platform that integrates all their data sources without significant disruption while meeting POPIA standards. This means they can focus on saving lives and not worry about finding data and whether their approach is compliant or not. Having such a connected data intelligence environment means healthcare professionals can not only get the insights they require, but better collaborate with one another and have an enhanced capability to predict critical conditions. The ultimate winners in this regard will be the patients who get more comprehensive care despite the difficult circumstances due to the pandemic.
Beyond helping healthcare providers fulfil its mandate of delivering quality patient care, advanced data analytics can also bring with it significant business benefits. For instance, it can decrease fraud. Claims can be analysed quicker, and the system can detect anomalies like repeat billing, false claims, and forged prescriptions faster.
It comes down to the connected data ecosystem created from more advanced technologies. Such an environment can help healthcare providers accelerate their digital transformation journeys while still meeting POPIA compliance around all their data elements. Accessing data ingestion and dissemination steps that link directly to advanced analytics means healthcare professionals can benefit from more sophisticated insights.
Given how new variants of COVID-19 are continually being discovered and healthcare services worldwide are finding the best ways of balancing the pandemic with other patient care, compliant data analytics can mean the difference between life and death.