New technology drives growth in healthcare services

Despite the perceived barriers associated with telemedicine, new technology is enabling digital healthcare to continuously improve and gain ground as a preferred method of providing healthcare services to patients using virtual consultation rooms.

In our previous newsletter we shared information with you about the obstacles that may hamper the growth of telemedicine platforms. To recap, here is an outline of some of the challenges that were highlighted when it came to the adoption of telemedicine.

Perceived Barriers to Telemedicine

Despite these concerns, considerable progress has nevertheless been made in the provision of care via digital platforms following the outbreak of Covid in South Africa.

Exponential growth has been seen in the number of medical schemes that now fund virtual and/or telephone consultations and repeat prescription codes with most of South Africa’s top medical schemes providing benefits for virtual consultations.

The typical codes that can be charged include:

  • 0130 – Telephone consultation (all hours)
  • 0132 – Consulting services such as writing of repeat scripts or requesting routine pre-authorisation without the physical presence of the patient, meaning that there is no need for a physical examination. Consultations via SMS or electronic media are also included in the tariff codes.

The Covid pandemic has created a situation that at times made it difficult for patients to see their doctors. This necessitated a change in the ethical rules of the HPCSA which allowed doctors to consult with any patient, even if the patient has not been seen at the specific practice before. Patients on the other hand have experienced the convenience of online doctor consultations and became accustomed to the fact that doctors can provide the necessary assistance online and that such professional healthcare consultations, which are charged for, do not have to take place in a physical consultation room. All of this has certainly set the tone for doctors to start providing virtual consultation services from their practices.

With consumers doing so much from the comfort of their home nowadays it is not surprising that there has also been a growing demand from patients who are looking for reliable, user-friendly technology that can make it easy to obtain access to healthcare via digital platforms.

Needless to say, the use of telemedicine is a much more cost-effective solution when compared to traditional methods of administering healthcare. Patients no longer have to physically go to the doctor to receive their required treatment, while video consultation is a much more convenient, less time-consuming solution for the patient and the doctor.

There are many benefits associated with the delivery of digital healthcare services all of which makes it important to adopt a strategy at practice level aimed at improving efficiency and appropriate care:

  • More effective and efficient time management.
  • More cost effective for both patient and healthcare provider.
  • The system does the paperwork and keeps a digital record thereof. Laborious, physical paperwork is therefore a thing of the past.
  • An effective telemedicine application ensures that medical information can be safely stored, and it also assists with billing.
  • Decrease the amount of time spent in the waiting rooms for patients as virtual consultations are shorter.
  • Remove geographic barriers. Doctors can literally work from anywhere at any time, provided that they have connectivity.
  • This is particularly useful in times of national disaster, pandemics and epidemics.
  • Reduce space and staff requirements.
  • A virtual system makes it easy to consult patients who live in a completely different location.
  • Reduced transportation costs for patients.
  • Considerably easier for compromised, elderly and disabled patients.

When considering the amount of time, cost and convenience that telemedicine affords to service providers and patients, there is no doubt that digital healthcare services are here to stay and that they will continue to grow as we move into a more technology-driven healthcare future.