Mobile health industry to be supported by the South African Government

Earlier today I came across an article by Farzana Rasool on ITWeb titled “Mobile health coming soon”. The message from the article should be interpreted as positive news for the health industry- and we would like to briefly discuss this article and some of the findings made.

Earlier on Insurance Chat we raised concerns that the benefits of telemedicine might not be fully appreciated in South Africa…and that thousands might be neglected by the mere dismissal of telemedicine as unethical!

I would like to quote from this post:

“…the Health Professions Council of SA (HPCSA) condemned telemedicine as unethical. Times Live reported that organisations offering the services of a doctor just a call away were in breach of patients’ rights, including the practitioner-patient relationship, patient confidentiality and informed consent, said HPCSA spokesperson Bertha Peters-Scheepers.”

The World Health Organization has however come out in favour of mobile health and telemedicine.

“With more than five billion cellphone subscribers in the world, and 85% of the planet covered by a commercial wireless signal, mHealth is becoming a popular way to strengthen health services.”

The Department of Communication has also addressed some of the concerns and confirmed support for mobile health:

  • Mobile health will play a significant role, as part of e-health initiatives, in realising its ICT strategy, said the Department of Communications (DOC).
  • ICT permits information and knowledge to expand in quantity and accessibility, thus having enormous potential, especially for developing countries, in furthering sustainable development.
  • The Department of Communications’ ICT strategy advocates digital inclusion to ensure there is access to basic services through ICT.
  • “Mobile health can indeed play a significant role as part of e-health initiatives in realising this strategy.”

It has also been confirmed that the Department of Health is in the process of finalising the draft e-health strategy and revising the country’s telemedicine strategy. Mobile health (m-health) will find its expression with these strategies.

Advantages of technology for mobile health

  • The advent of mobile technology and the high mobile phone penetration in the country are among the key proponents for mobile health in SA,” said the Deputy Minister of Communications.
  • ”ICT infrastructure is a critical component for e-health development, including m-health. Foreign investment in African telecommunications infrastructure is steadily increasing, and this is hoped to drive the development of mobile health solutions.”

What are the hurdles to the expansion of mobile health?

Deputy Minister Bapela said there are a number of hurdles that SA has to overcome before mobile health becomes part of the mainstream healthcare service delivery. “Paramount to these is the question of affordability, which is very critical for adoption of this emerging technology.”

He added that industry must produce empirical evidence that shows that SA can sustain the use of technology for day-to-day healthcare service, and mobile health must also comply with privacy and confidentiality regulations.

Commitment by Government towards infrastructure development

Bapela said the Independent Communications Authority of SA continues to develop relevant legislation and regulations within the mobile technology arena such as those related to radio frequency spectrum, as well as licensing for mobile operators.

“Our role as government is to create a conducive environment for growth of mobile technologies in SA, so that they can make a meaningful contribution especially to the key priority areas of government such as health, education and job creation.

“We can only do this by ensuring that we develop ICT policies and legislation that create this growth in mobile technologies.”

“As government, we will continue to strive to reduce the digital divide and improve access to ICT for all our people in SA by making meaningful investments towards the necessary resources such as human capital, technical expertise and broadband network infrastructure.”

“We expect mobile health to live beyond pilot projects to the main stream delivery of the needed healthcare services in SA, Africa as a whole and other developing countries.”

Conclusion and Advice

Mobile Health and telemedicine are so much more than providing a prescription over the phone. Mobile health has the potential to provide effective interaction between medical professionals from the most remote and general doctor to the specialist in the city. Modern technology enables the sharing of expertise and discussion far beyond the voice conversation –but also sharing of data, images and live video broadcasting.

This is something that needs to be embraced with open arms. The regulators should accept that this is the medical environment of the future – and that they should be able, with the guidance of the very best medical expertise, to design the protocols and guidelines to guard against the potential pitfalls and dangers!

One thought on “Mobile health industry to be supported by the South African Government

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