Using Technology To Tackle The Challenges Of The SA Healthcare Market

Discussion With UCS Technology Services’ (UCS TS) Helix Pharmacy Software Architect, Renaldo Meere

With 17 years’ experience designing and developing software solutions for the healthcare market –UCS TS’ Renaldo Meere is a great source of information for those seeking insights into the current and future challenges faced by the sector.

In a quick Q&A session, he gives an interesting overview of the current healthcare situation in South Africa (specifically as it pertains to the pharmacy), the importance of leveraging data, as well as how UCS TS fits into the picture with data and patient-centric solutions like HelixHealth.

Q: SA has a very different picture to the US or Europe where there are few players – we have many medical aids and public health system across affluent and rural markets. How could technology enable and expedite delivery and better lives across both environments?

A: I think the key to understanding our industry is to recognise that we have very few insured lives and the majority of the country is reliant on Public healthcare. The government could benefit immensely from more hands-on patient care (specifically concerning compliance) but this aspect isn’t receiving a lot of attention at the moment and private healthcare has to pitch in.

The key to bridging most of the challenges our industry faces is effective communication. More people have access to cell phones than any other electronic communication device but not everyone has a smartphone. Newer technology like apps should be implemented for the audience that has access to these, but a lot of attention needs to also be paid to technology that is less reliant on data streams, such as SMS and USSD.

A mix of cutting edge and older technology could provide a sweet spot for communication and enable better patient care and compliance.

Q: SA Healthcare has some unique challenges, one of which is the lack of skilled resources, specifically pharmacists – what will be in the Helix Pharmacy that will help streamline operations, but still keep them in adherence of the legislation?

A: We are painfully aware of the lack of resources throughout our healthcare industry. This extends past human resources, onto financial as well as infrastructural resources. All of these factors are constantly being taken into account and our implementation is always in flux to accommodate them.

Utilising operational data inside a pharmacy is key to not only understanding the shortcomings, but also to implement solutions to bridge these gaps.

Having access to this data in real-time however is helping tremendously. a lot of the dispensing process will be automated in the background which will allow pharmacists to concentrate on dispensing instead of focusing on administrative processes. Finding a patient for example will be enhanced to the degree that it would only take a pharmacist a few seconds.

Logging and storing more information than ever will allow us to have a fully reconcilable dispensing process.

Q: What is your vision of what Helix Pharmacy will bring to the South African Healthcare markets, and how will this development make our lives better?

A: I think the main vision of the project is exactly to answer this question.

Currently we have no idea what exactly is contained in our data because we have never really had it in a technological format that allowed us to make use of it. The system has a very strong analytics backbone that will allow us to make use of all of this data to extend and enhance our solution.

There will however be some immediately visible benefits:

  • The new technology will allow the software to communicate much quicker between components, which will allow for more accurate pharmacy management;
  • A lot of manual processes are being replaced with automated services at pharmacies as well as internally at UCS TS; and
  • The system will also be able to make use of threaded technology so that multiple tasks can be performed at the same time without the user begin locked into single screen. This alone will bring about a whole range of modifications to the way users are used to using the software and will probably be the most visible of the changes.

Q: Everyone wants to own the ecosystem in healthcare. How do you see this working in reality between the various role players?

A: Everyone wants to own the system, but nobody has all of the information required to do so. Pharmacy dispensing has a unique collection of data but it lacks any non-dispensing information from medical service providers. Funders have access to this information but they lack information about original prescriptions. Healthcare service providers have all of the information pertaining to their consultation but they lack access to the dispensing information.

You would need all 3 of these parties to come together and share information to be able to provide a complete ecosystem. This ecosystem would also have to be patient-centric. Currently a few Medicals Aids have systems that allow for some of this information to be shared but it focuses on benefitting the administrator and not the patient and these systems aren’t really seeing uptake. The other issue with funder-exclusive systems is that it only caters for a very small percentage of South Africans and they belong to a medical aid Scheme.

You also have the smaller ecosystems that exist throughout the industry but none of them are communicating with each other.

In my opinion there is only one feasible way for an ecosystem to exist (apart from government forcing it though with legislation) and that is for all major players in this space to come together and create an open patient information repository that isn’t owned by any one party, but supported by the entire industry.

Q: Pharmacy is a highly regulated environment with many transactions and which creates a lot of data – what technology do you see making a difference in the healthcare market?

A: It is all about the data and the effective use thereof. The technologies that are going to have a huge impact in my opinion are data lakes, augmented analysis and specialised data analysis.

Data lakes as opposed to data warehouses focus on storing data in the original format that it was provided in, instead of transforming it to a standard format (usually intended for business reporting). It is extremely difficult and often impossible to get back to original data once a dataset has been transformed. Data from a lake may be transformed for warehouse use as a copy, without modifying the original data, but the reverse is not possible. Having access to all forms of data in their original formats will open up new ways of interfacing and using information.

In addition, you need processes that can analyse and make sense of your data collection. Augmented analytics (a form of machine learning) will be key to proper identification of patterns and possible usage scenarios. The information obtained from the analytics can then be fed into specialised data and statistics analysis making use of newer programming languages such as R that specialises in effectively extracting and reporting on data.

There will be more reliance on computer-driven processes in the future to address human shortcomings such as resource availability and technical accuracy. These technologies will benefit the South African healthcare market immensely by providing access to information that in the past would have required a lot of technical resources.

UCS TS is the leading pharmacy dispensing, application and retail software solution provider for pharmacies in South Africa. Our solutions streamline operations and turn data into actionable information, enabling you to streamline your processes, improve customer experience and safeguard your profit margins. Contact us today for more information.