e-Patients and Sustainable Health in South Africa
Start your answers with T1, T2, T3, T4 or CT for transcript purposes after the moderator prompts.
T1: Why are e-Patients important to Sustainable Health Systems?
T2: How do you think we could accelerate the e-Patient revolution?
(e.g. Education, Policy Changes, Academic Programs, Digital Resources etc.)
T3: How can we convince providers (HCP’s and health IT) about the value of an e-Patient?
T4: What are the barriers to cultivating e-Patients?
(e.g. Health Literacy, Access to Technology, Cultural Diversity)
CT: Closing Thoughts – What do you think is important to add to this conversation?
What is an e-Patient?
Dr. Tom Ferguson first coined the term e-Patient and according to his white paper, he described the future of participatory medicine as an equal partnership between an e-Patient, his providers and the systems that support them. The “e” in the word e-Patient represents a number of various elements which include empowered, equipped, educated, enabled, electronic, emancipated, engaged, expert and evaluating.
One of the notable characteristics of an e-Patient, as Dr. Ferguson explained, was his ability to gather information and use digital technologies such as the internet and wearable devices to manage his health better. As technology improves, e-Patients will evolve further.
e-Patients and Global Health
In South Africa and many other developing countries, e-Patients could play a substantial role towards pandemics like disease control. In theory, an e-Patient could report a health issue in his community in real-time which could help identify and contain outbreaks more rapidly. Social media platforms like Twitter are already being utilised for this, but not as efficiently as they could be for numerous reasons. In terms of Noncommunicable Diseases (NCDs) like Diabetes, e-Patients could self-manage their condition better if they are provided with supporting technologies like mobile apps, wearables or digital platforms.
One of the obvious hurdles to overcome before we can realise these goals in South Africa would be to address access to Information and Communication Technologies (ICT’s) which we discussed in a previous hcsmSA chat. Fortunately, international organisations like the United Nations, The BroadBand Commission and ITU are working towards improving ICT’s in developing countries like South Africa and in a recent article on ITweb, it was also mentioned how government has commenced with the SA Connect project which is an ambitious national broadband policy that was adopted in 2013 and aims to deliver widespread broadband access to 90% of the country’s population by 2020, and 100% by 2030.
According to recent statistics, 52% of the South African population are utilising the internet and we are ranked within the top 25 countries, which demonstrates that we are ready to start migrating our manual systems. These stats, however, don’t reflect the speed and cost which will be valuable denominators to generating large sets of data.
Will every patient evolve equally in South Africa?
One of the relevant points Dr. Ferguson makes in his white paper is to understand how e-Patients differ. While some might be avid internet users, others might not. Where users who have not become accustomed to technology, the digital divides will grow. In a recent tweet chat, our guest from Medecins Sans Frontieres, pointed this out when he described how many residents in settlements like Khayelitsha in Cape Town don’t have smartphones.
This is important because many of these users might not use digital innovation meaningfully once it is implemented. Many might resist digitisation if it’s too complicated. Digital empowerment programs or co-creating innovation with patients to understand their precise needs could be useful.
Can digital technologies empower patients in South Africa?
After visiting the #HIMSS17 conference in February as a social media ambassador, I had an immense opportunity to learn about the future of digital health. I met virtual reality companies working on patient education kits which doctors can prescribe, I also saw companies who are exploring VR applications for pain management. I was able to demonstrate an array of digital platforms, some were developed to help patients adhere to treatments better, others were for telehealth support, some brought health data to one place making it easier for users to gain a holistic view of their health. I saw the latest full colour, 3D printed models for surgical planning which were produced from high-definition CT scans at a molecular level. I found myself wondering if we would ever have access to these empowering technologies given the state of our public health systems. I also found myself questioning how the private sector and payors would be providing funding for some digital innovation which benefits a patient
One of the important topics at HIMSS which stood out for me was interoperability. Interoperability is crucial to patient empowerment because it helps to connect the dots. No one wants the process of recovery to be more complicated than it already is and HCP’s don’t benefit much with fragmented information. HIMSS describes interoperability as the extent to which systems and devices can exchange data, and interpret that shared data.
Can social media (hcsm) play a role towards the e-Patient revolution?
One area of digital technology too many take for granted is social media. It offers many empowering opportunities such as the ability to develop supportive patient communities. Online marketing insights help us to track social sentiment for research and development, in fact, this is being widely used in the pharmaceutical industry. Analytics enable more precisely targetted marketing which can promote behaviour change. In a recent article, they explain that there is a great deal of enthusiasm and interest in using social media for public health communications, but few research studies have examined its success in promoting and adopting protective health behaviours.
Some digital platforms like patientlikeme.com provide a health-focused network where patients can compare their condition with others as well as drug reactions to make more informed decisions. Whilst many IT companies are focusing predominantly on the social data benefits for AI, there are a plethora more when it comes to e-Patients. Recent statistics suggest that South Africa are demonstrating phenomenal growth on social media with 14 million on Facebook and 7.7 million on Twitter and a 58% increase in YouTube, which is a difficult communication channel to ignore.
Nancy B. Finn
Our special expert, Nancy B. Finn is a writer and thought leader on the impact of digital communication on organisational behaviour, health care and patient care. She is the author of e-Patients Live Longer, The Complete Guide to Managing Health Care Using Technology. She was also invited by the Global Alliance for Health Promotion to present a talk on Advancing Health Equity with e-Health at a Forum sponsored by the WHO and the ITU, held in Geneva Switzerland on November 16, 2015. Nancy has also authored Digital Communication in Medical Practice published by Springer Verlag, and targeted at a physician audience, and two books on business and digital communication: The Electronic Office, published by Prentice Hall and Writing Dynamics published by the CBI Division of Van Nostrand Rheinhold.
She is a member and Secretary of the Society for Participatory Medicine, blogs for e-Patients.net and writes and reviews articles for the Journal of Participatory Medicine.
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The first United Nations World Data Forum was held in Cape Town on 15-18 January 2017