Medshield exists for our members. Part of our ethos is that we are always looking for innovative solutions to enhance the value to our members. We aim for the ideal balance between affordability, high-quality care and convenient access to healthcare using technology. That is precisely how we developed SmartCare.
Our innovative success so far
SmartCare is a dual-purpose platform able to host physical and virtual consultations. It may seem mundane now, but in 2019 when people did not know about virtual consultations, it was ground-breaking and pioneered the way forward to where we are today. Human beings remain social creatures. We like to go in and see a doctor face to face physically. SmartCare needed to blend both worlds to bridge this, offering some face-to-face consultations and embracing 4IR by providing a digital experience.
SmartCare-enabled clinics are located inside pharmacies and operate according to the hours of the pharmacy. It means members have access to qualified healthcare providers after hours (up to 19:00 on weekdays) and notably over weekends. The nurse conducts the physical test, and will contact the GP if required through the use of VideoMed technology. A pharmacy that has SmartCare-enabled facilities becomes a convenient one-stop-shop. Once you have done your consultation with a nurse or doctor, you hand in your script at the pharmacy and immediately receive your medication. It all happens in forty five minutes from entering the pharmacy to leaving with your dispensed medicines.
Furthermore, we provided unlimited nurse consultations for all Medshield members, across all our plans, and it helped to reduce emergency room visits that sometimes happen over the weekend. Qualified nurses undertook roughly 58% of general examination consultations, meaning the patients were adequately treated. These general examinations included, for example, prophylactic preventative measures, family or contraceptive management, and self-management OTC (over-the-counter) medicine. General Practitioners conducted 42% of the consultations, which was generally when members required treatment for an acute upper respiratory infection or some sort of essential primary hypertension. Overall, six out of 10 people were adequately seen by the nurse.
Why is the SmartCare solution so innovative? Because in South Africa, we probably have five doctors for every 100,000 – they are a scarce resource. Therefore, we need to balance resources to enable easy access to healthcare professionals when required. An even smaller percentage of specialists exists, so we optimise the healthcare value chain through this alignment of resources.
In 2020, Medshield offered members WhatsApp Doc as a free doctor advisor. If you were not sure whether you needed to test for COVID or not, you could use the WhatsApp line to have a consultation with a doctor to get answers on symptoms, how to self-isolate, when to go for a PCR test and so forth. Over 43% of the WhatsApp Doc consultations were about COVID-19 advice, and only 7% were not COVID related.
In 2021, we took it a step further by launching virtual consultations. Medshield members can now visit a Family Practitioner from wherever they are via their smartphone, tablet, or computer. The consultation with the Family Practitioner now does not require any travelling time or loss of productive work hours and members are still able to access quality care and proper treatment. We have unlocked telemedicine in different ways, shapes, and forms.
More citizens still need access
South Africans are blessed with the benefit of a world-class private healthcare system on par with some of the first world countries. Our private healthcare system is a national treasure and must be protected and nurtured. We have quick access to doctors and specialists, some of the best policies, and the latest technology.
However, we have been slow to fully embrace the 4IR in healthcare that has become an integral part of several global healthcare systems. Currently, only 9 million South Africans have access to private healthcare. We need to figure out how we can unlock private healthcare for more people. Some challenges include travel costs, loss of income due to lost productive time, language barriers, gaps in quality of care, or people in rural areas who lack access to the latest technology. However, this is also where the opportunity is and where the solution lies. Technology has the power to democratise private healthcare, making it more widely accessible and affordable.
SmartCare is proof that technology can lower the barriers to high-quality private healthcare and conveniently save our members precious time in their busy schedules. The pool is still vast – we have about 60 million smartphone subscriptions, wearable technology that is continuously evolving, and an increased broadband spectrum that has been unleashed. While digital healthcare is not a substitute for physical consultation, it should be seen as a complementary enhancement that can benefit all involved. Ultimately, it is a win-win situation for all stakeholders. DM/MC
Author: Thoneshan Naidoo, Principal Officer of Medshield Medical Scheme