A key part of making healthcare affordable and accessible to all members of society is gaining insight from patient data to better understand their needs as well as the efficacy of treatments and medication, writes Henry Adams, Country Manager of InterSystems.

Furthermore, it also empowers practitioners and service providers to identify trends that can improve the management of any crisis such as the one currently experienced with the COVID-19 pandemic. Up until now, the biggest stumbling block to achieving this has been the inability of providers to share healthcare data.

This is not from want of trying. In the early part of this century, several initiatives were attempted to improve the level of information sharing in the healthcare industry. Unfortunately, the lack of patient data and the unwillingness of healthcare solutions provider vendors to share what they saw as competitive intelligence limited this. Furthermore, at a global level the industry was plagued by a lack of interoperability standards for data and healthcare systems were either primitive or non-existent.

Today, most of these challenges no longer exist. There is a significant amount of patient data that can be shared or exchanged. From their side, patients are expecting a unified approach by all healthcare providers when it comes their own data. They want a single, unified source of truth about their personal records and medical history. And they demand that this information is available no matter where they are and how they are being treated.

To this end, changes in regulation have seen countries like the United States put federal mandates in place that require access to patient data on an application level for systems to be certified. With patient care dramatically improved when information is shared across the industry, more solutions are now being developed that require large amounts of data from a variety of organisations, regions, and sources.

This more unified approach results in several benefits, for example reducing duplication of testing. It prevents patients from having to wait for some bureaucratic process to finish in order to get access to their own records. With their history immediately available, it can result in less paperwork and faster admission procedures.

Long road ahead

South Africa, like many developing markets, has some way to go before universal data sharing is implemented across the healthcare industry. Research shows that the implementation of these systems in public health care in the country remains limited. It found that patient data is still manually recorded in the patient’s file, while data required for monitoring and evaluation purposes is hand-written by the nurses in registers. This is then aggregated with only the results entered into electronic health information systems for analysis.

Fortunately, things are changing for the better in this regard. CareConnect, a non-profit recently founded by three of the largest medical insurance administrators and three of the largest hospital groups in South Africa, will use the InterSystems HealthShare Unified Care Record and Healthshare Patient Index to provide unified access to patient information for the first time.

This helps providers, payers, consumers, researchers, and solution developers overcome the challenges of decentralised data by creating a shared, comprehensive, and unified care record. It delivers relevant data from the unified record into clinical and business workflows, communicates across application and business ecosystem, and facilitates timely action through real-time notifications.

And thanks to recent innovations in technology such as artificial intelligence and deep learning techniques, large data sets can now be used to discover new solutions to a range of problems. By embracing such a data-driven approach to information in healthcare, countries like South Africa can greatly enhance its approach to a sector that is a fundamental building block to ensure people are healthy and able to help the economy grow.

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