"The recent outbreak of CoVID-19 and resultant closure of three local private hospitals has drawn attention to the urgent need for a careful but speedy response to this troubling development in the pandemic," says Andrew Davies, CEO of local health tech company Signapps.
"While South African authorities have done well to lever the learnings from other countries on flattening the curve, incoming reports and data on the impact of CoVID-19 on frontline healthcare workers are troubling," he adds.
Preliminary data released on Tuesday by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates that between 5- and 12% of infections in the Northern Hemisphere affect healthcare workers.
"Biggest battle of our lives"
A medical physician at Baragwanath Hospital described the gravity of the situation as such: "South Africans should be under no illusion of what is at stake for our population and healthcare workers on the front line. We are set for the biggest battle of our lives and certainly our medical careers…one that needs to be fought as a strong, unified front with a singleness of purpose and concerted energy."
South Africa's Health Minister Zweli Mkhize also made an important reference to the need to protect healthcare workers in his briefing Monday, and particularly in Stage 6*of the response.
"We believe that the introduction of a simple care co-ordination platform on the mobile phone, such as Signapps, could mitigate much of the risk of infection exposure to frontline doctors and nurses," Davies added.
Currently used in both the private and public healthcare sectors to co-ordinate patient care, Healthcent's Signapps, was originally developed with initial funding secured from the DTI and the Gauteng Innovation Hub. Healthcent is a local, privately-owned health tech company recently backed by Allan Gray and Umkhathi Wethu Ventures.
Focus on CoVID-19
Davies and his team are turning their attention to the application of Signapps to address the CoVID-19 pandemic head on.
"Our objectives with Signapps in CoVID-19 are simple: to reduce the risk of infection to health care workers and improve patient outcomes. Because of South Africa's proactive response to the virus, patient numbers are still low and existing facilities relatively quiet. So we have a short but critical window of opportunity before the expected surge in patient numbers arrives, as recently outlined by our Health Minister," he says.
"South Africa has a unique set of circumstances regarding CoVID-19. Local health facilities are struggling to respond effectively and safely to the virus.
Challenge of paperwork
Paperwork is slow, complex and inefficient. Protocols are long and complex. And far too many health care workers are physically present with the patient, increasing the risk to themselves because of the manual processes involved."
Signapps provides real-time, malleable, collaborative data collection and patient care co-ordination all on the mobile phone. A real-time, on-line patient thread is created when the patient is admitted. Data is collected and shared.
Advantages of remote messaging
Messaging between members of the health-care team, many of them remotely, enables a large number of experts to be involved in the patient care without necessarily being on site. This is critical in South Africa's healthcare space where resources and manpower are already stretched.
Because far fewer professionals spend time directly interfacing with the patient, the risk to them can be dramatically reduced. This also allows these doctors to attend to a larger number of patients, including those without CoVID-19.
With Signapps, essential documentation, such as protocols and patient records, are kept on the patient thread and are available in real-time to all participants. Remedial actions are immediate. Unlike other messaging systems such as WhatsApp, Signapps is specifically designed for the healthcare space and adheres to legal requirements such as confidentiality and POPI.
Signapps speeds up the collection and dissemination of a patient's clinical data in real time, making treatment quicker and, therefore, more effective. It allows input from a wide range of participating professionals, many of whom will be remote from isolated CoVID-19 patients.
"Healthcare workers – our army"
"Healthcare workers are our army in this CoVID-19 war. Protection of the physical, psychological and socio-economic factors of each healthcare warrior is paramount. Working together with emphasis on physical distancing from the disease requires collective thinking, planning and execution. The relationship between technology and health has never been this integral to saving lives," says one Johannesburg Physician for Infectious Diseases.
Pro bono for public sector hospitals
Given the urgency of the situation and the need for all role players to work for the greater good of the nation, Davies and his team will provide Signapps pro bono to all users in public sector hospitals over the CoVID-19 period.
"In terms of roll-out, we plan to target specific public sector hospitals, authorities and technology integrators that are considered likely to adopt the system and are capable of doing it quickly. In addition, private hospital groups will also be exposed to this technology in the belief that it will help alleviate the risk of more tragic situations occurring in this sector," Davies says.
"The solution offered by Signapps within CoVID-19 is innovative, simple to use, effective, improves healthcare worker safety and patient care and specifically addresses the weaknesses in the current SA situation. But we cannot wait. Time is not on our side here," he concludes.