The electronic medical records system CareOn, pioneered in South Africa by Netcare, has won the Digital Innovation Award at the seventh annual International Quality Awards held in London.

The awards, spanning eight categories, highlight the achievements of exceptional quality professionals, teams, and organisations worldwide. Netcare was chosen from 87 entries submitted from 19 countries as the best example of using innovative digital solutions to improve business processes and quality outcomes in quality management.

Judges said the Netcare CareOn project was a world class example of governance, assurance, effective project and change management principles.

“CareOn has truly revolutionised the way healthcare services are provided across South Africa and increasingly the wider world. Transitioning from a paper-based medical records system to an electronic solution which fully services hospitals, medical staff, patients, and other key stakeholders necessitated not only significant technical innovation but also the fostering of completely new skill sets across thousands of end users. Overcoming ingrained working practices and embedded resistance to change through collaboration as opposed to by force uniquely distinguish this project from other entries.”

Dr Richard Friedland, CEO of the Netcare Group, comments: “This is the gateway to a ten year strategy that is set to transform healthcare. Moreover, it will have a profound and lasting impact on patient safety and engagement. Healthcare is not just about treating illnesses; it’s about crafting a future where every digital innovation becomes a tool for empowering patients to become equal and active participants in their health and well-being. In our healthcare ecosystem, digital technology and the rich, personalised data that it provides are the key to continually elevating the most crucial deliverables for patients. It is our commitment to better outcomes and improved longevity that define our journey at Netcare.

“With the power of health and care that is data-driven and digitally enabled, clinical decision making will be optimised and accelerated, which has numerous benefits for the treatment individuals receive while in our care. Up to 60% of all hospital prescribing errors arise from misinterpreting a doctor’s written script. The provision of electronic scripting eliminates errors of legibility or misinterpretation,” he adds.

With the introduction of the IBM Watson Health Micromedex, all drug dosages, interactions, duplications and allergies are electronically checked, thereby helping to eliminate up to 60% of potential medication errors across more than 1,8-million in-hospital scripts per year in Netcare. Early indications are that the internal rate of return on the digitisation project is expected to be more than 21% annually.

Dr Friedland says Netcare’s move to build its CareOn system has seen the company develop nurses’ and doctors’ digital skills while becoming the largest customer for Apple iPads in Southern Africa.

“With more than 13 000 iPads in circulation in 45 Netcare hospitals, the most significant hurdle was the adoption of technology by healthcare workers. Anticipating that this might be hard for our nurses, as many of them had not used computers before, we started with the basics, using games like Candy Crush to pave the way.”

As the system is completely mobile, it allows clinicians live access to their patients’ records away from the bedside and outside of the hospital, wherever they may be.

Developed over seven years, CareOn currently has over 34 000 users in seven provinces in South Africa. It was developed by 40 dedicated workstreams in South Africa, Germany and India. An existing basic system was selected and then tailored to precisely what Netcare’s end users required.

“We are extremely motivated by the difference this project is making in real people’s lives in Netcare hospitals,” adds Gerhard Weiss, director of strategic projects and systems integration at Netcare.

“This award acknowledges the hard work our teams nationally have put into developing our electronic medical records system and the necessary infrastructure and training to successfully implement this pioneering technology in South Africa on such a large scale.

“The innovative digital system enables specialists and healthcare teams to view patients’ clinical information, test results, and vital observations remotely and in real time, using the digital integration of medical equipment and devices in ICUs and theatres. Among the many efficiencies this offers, it frees up nurses’ time, which can now be dedicated to caring for patients. At the same time, a considerable range of automatic safety checks minimises the potential for human error. Now, all those pieces of equipment seamlessly feed integrated data into the electronic medical record,” notes Weiss.

Netcare aims to digitally enable patients to become active participants and owners of their own health and care. When patients leave a Netcare facility, they leave with a summary of their care. Should they be admitted at any time in the future, their healthcare provider will know exactly what care and medication they received. Of equal importance is the fact that the doctor or specialist engaging with the patient has a relationship based on data that was never available before.

“We deeply appreciate this award, which reinforces our belief that digital efficiency is the future of health and care. It guides practitioners to serve patients better and makes healthcare more convenient, effective, and person centred. As we celebrate CareOn’s success, I wish to thank every person on our remarkable team for making this achievement possible,” Dr Friedland concludes.