The accessibility of private primary healthcare in South Africa has taken a leap forward with the introduction of an innovative new service through mobile communications and chat commerce technology.

“In the evolution of healthcare in South Africa, this application of technology represents the latest in a series of groundbreaking primary healthcare solutions we have introduced in recent years to bring the benefits of private medical services to the low-cost segment of the healthcare market,” says Patrick Lubbe, chief executive officer of the National HealthCare Group.

“This latest primary healthcare offering differentiates itself through delivering healthcare to the palm of the hand using a mobile phone and a series of WhatsApp prompts to pinpoint potential healthcare issues,” he explains.

The low-cost, WhatsApp-based primary healthcare service provides members with online interactive access to doctors and nurses on WhatsApp, physical consultations with doctors on referral, and all prescribed medication along with other key services for a maximum of R95 per employee per month.

“The service is ideal, particularly in times like these, as it gives members an affordable and effective way to connect with a health professional from home.”

Empowering individuals

Lubbe says that the tech-savvy yet simple solution was launched at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in May, fulfilling a considerable need for more accessible healthcare and empowering individuals to monitor their health closely.

“The decision of the Health Professions Council of South Africa to allow phone or video consultations with doctors and other practitioners during the COVID-19 crisis afforded National HealthCare the opportunity to offer an even more affordable service through MediClub ConnectTM.”

“Early indications are that the product has been well received by South African companies for their employees. One of the first companies to introduce the benefit into the workplace was fast-food chain, Hungry Lion, which signed up approximately 3 000 staff members across South Africa. These staff members previously relied on government healthcare services, but now have access to professional advice, referrals to general practitioners and medication where needed,” notes Lubbe.

Explaining the philosophy behind the decision to extend healthcare cover at a time when the company was forced to close due to national lockdown regulations, Hungry Lion chief executive officer, Adrian Basson, says that while the company had closed for the lockdown it was fortunately in a position to continue paying staff salaries.

“As the pandemic really brought home the importance of health, we decided that healthcare cover should be expanded beyond managers and assistant managers to include vulnerable workers who should not have to risk visiting public health facilities if they are ill,” adds Basson.

“I appealed to National HealthCare executive chair, Dr Reinder Nauta, to devise a plan to ensure that all our employees could get professional medical help safely if they fell ill during the crisis. We were already paying for more than 260 managers, assistant managers and head office staff to belong to National HealthCare’s primary healthcare plan. With the introduction of MediClub ConnectTM, everyone now benefits from quality primary care, at an unbeatable rate, with no attendant risk.”

Medical schemes want lower costs

Commenting on the development, Dr Nauta says that the ability to respond to increased demand from employers and medical schemes to lower healthcare costs, while broadening access to healthcare services, sets this initiative apart, and addresses these pressing priorities in the South African healthcare sector.

“What is needed right now are consummate leaders who understand the importance of offering employees efficient health cover during these challenging times. Not only will it stand businesses in good stead by reducing absenteeism and strengthening the bottom line, but it also builds morale, solidarity, loyalty and ultimately good labour relations.

“The introduction of NHI represents a fundamental reform of the private healthcare landscape. With only a fraction of South Africans employed in the formal and informal sector having access to healthcare cover, the implementation of NHI will come as a series of major shocks to the entire healthcare system. We must therefore be proactive in developing viable alternative streams of health support, which will go some way towards eliminating the inequity that exists in healthcare immediately, while ensuring that the basic healthcare needs of employees are met,” he says.

Expanded network of doctors

National HealthCare has established itself as the healthcare service provider of choice in the lower cost and emerging markets. Good geographic positioning, as a result of a significantly expanded doctor network, and a hands-on business philosophy has allowed the Group to develop an intimate understanding of the needs of the low-cost market.

“We have consistently grown the lives under management within the group to more than 40 000 beneficiaries with medical schemes such as Sizwe and Makoti already using National HealthCare as a network for low-cost options,” Lubbe notes.

“At National HealthCare we have experienced an evolution in our business model in that we have matured from a primary care management model to a more sophisticated full risk transfer model. Corporates now provide for a maximum monthly healthcare expense per employee on their own balance sheets, which has already been shown to be far more cost-effective. In some cases, it has saved as much as 40% when compared with health insurance premiums.”

“Without doubt a robust and well-functioning primary healthcare system is more important than ever in today’s rapidly evolving world. There has never been a more critical time to broaden access to healthcare and we are fully committed to bringing the benefits of quality care to more people,” concludes Dr Nauta.

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