South African health tech to keep out of hospital and cut medical bills

There are many forms of apps and smart devices on the market today that could transform the way healthcare is delivered — saving time and costs for patients and doctors.

MyBroadband asked these South African health tech providers what trends and developments they’ve seen in the space.

Kena Health offers consultations, written prescriptions, and treatment plans through your mobile device.

Health tech smart devices take it a step further and offer remote patient monitoring, such as the Hospital at Home offering by Quro Medical.

Companies such as VitruvianMD are developing artificial intelligence-based services for automated medical data analysis such as symptoms and radiological imaging.

This AI then produces a report giving likely medical conditions and possible courses of action.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the limitations of our healthcare system when more than the usual number of patients required hospitalisation and couldn’t access life-saving care,” said Quro Medical CEO Dr Vuyane Mhlomi.

“Only 16% of South Africans have medical insurance.”

“While all citizens can access public healthcare, many cannot afford the admission costs of hospitals, and these facilities are often overburdened,” a spokesperson for Kena Health told MyBroadband.

These concerns inspired digital health start-ups like Kena Heath and Quro Medical to come up with products to relieve the overburdened healthcare system and address the issue of costly medical care.

Quro has developed a “Hospital at Home” service that uses Internet-of-things wearable and wireless medical-grade devices that collect health data.

This data is monitored and analysed in real-time.

The devices include a chest patch that continuously monitors vital signs and additional hardware for intermittent monitoring of patients’ oxygen and sugar levels.

The chest patch is a multiparameter biosensor that monitors heart rate, ECG, respiratory rate, and core body temperature.

It also measures patient movements, like steps taken, body position, and fall detection.

This data is relayed to a clinical command centre from which patients’ doctors will have access to the health data to manage the treatment plan for their patients remotely.

“When there is a sudden change in health data such as heart rate or a change in body position like when a patient has fallen, the patch sends an alert to the command centre,” said Quro Medical chief technical officer Joost Pielage.

“This alert will immediately inform the in-care clinical team to follow up on the patient immediately.”

“This telehealth allows for patients to receive hospital-level care right at home, eliminating the need to find them a bed in a healthcare facility for observation and monitoring at an exorbitant cost,” said Mhlomi.

The Hospital at Home service is currently offered in Johannesburg, Pretoria, East London, Port Elizabeth, and Cape Town.

While the product helps reduce healthcare costs and increase accessibility, it is still too expensive for some.

Kena Health hopes to address this gap by giving South Africans the ability to consult with a medical professional using text, voice, or video from their smartphone.

It assures these app-based consultations are private and that patient records are encrypted.

Kena has also added mental health practitioners to the app.

“In South Africa, we give people affordable access to mental health professionals, and we have found it to be one of the services most in-demand from our users, and we expect this to continue,” said the spokesperson for Kena Health.

VitruvianMD CEO Ifthakaar Shaik highlighted one major challenge facing the industry.

“For health tech solutions to become affordable and accessible for the majority of South Africans, the challenges facing the required infrastructure need to be addressed — such as the accessibility to the Internet.”

“Health tech opportunities in South Africa is a growing space and has attracted investors. I think we will see many major success stories in the years to come,” said Shaik.

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South African health tech to keep out of hospital and cut medical bills