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One File, For Life

Uncovering Hidden Costs in Healthcare

Managing Scattered Medical Records

With the recent Act of Parliament for the National Health Insurance Act (NHIA), many professionals and organisations alike have voiced their concerns about its implementation and overall viability. One of the most overlooked aspects, however, is the administrative challenges that the Act poses to the private sector. Compounded with these challenges are the already fragmented medical datasets that exist for patients. We dive into how these affect productivity, costs, and the overall quality of diagnoses.


A doctor holding a single patient's medical file

The Financial Toll of Fragmented Medical Histories

Disjointed medical records are a common but overlooked issue in healthcare systems. Most likely because it has become a norm for an industry that has relied on a paper-based filing system for many decades. When a culture existed that thrived on brand loyalty, this was still a perfectly viable approach. But since younger generations base their choices on cost, quality, and the experience that they receive from service providers, brand loyalty is not a wholly dependable factor anymore. This has led to a rapidly expanding data fragmentation crisis, especially in the medical sector and whether we face the facts or not, it is significantly driving up costs.


When a patient's medical history is spread across multiple unlinked records, it forces healthcare providers to repeat tests and diagnoses. One such example has been illustrated in the DigiMedi Health Litepaper. This not only delays effective treatment but also incurs additional costs that could have been avoided with a cohesive records system.


Revealing the Hidden Costs of Paper-Based Medical Records

Paper-based records not only hinder operational efficiency in the process of administering effective patient care but also contribute to financial losses in the healthcare sector. We can all agree that this is one sector that cannot afford such losses.


In the media briefing by the Minister of Health Dr Joe Phaahla, it was highlighted that the Department of Health cannot employ newly graduated and experienced medical doctors. Out of the initial eight-hundred and twenty-five (825) unemployed doctors, only six-hundred and ninety-four (694) or eighty-four per cent (84%) had completed their subsequent [compulsory] community service after completing their post-graduate two-year internships. Although most of these healthcare professionals have applied for posts as medical officers in the various provinces, by June 2024 fewer than four hundred (400) of these doctors managed to secure permanent work. The main reason for this was that the Department did not account for the 7% salary increase in the annual budget.


While the intention is not to cast a shadow on the Department, it reinforces the fact that the healthcare sector in South Africa is in dire need of an alternative. One that saves costs and eliminates redundancies when delivering effective care.


The transition to digital records minimises these losses, reduces the margin for error, and supports sustainable healthcare practices. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the shift to electronic health records can save countries millions and create a more efficient healthcare system (WHO.int, 2022).


Why Consolidating Patient Data is the Key to Cost-Effective Healthcare

Data fragmentation not only impacts individual patient care but also strains healthcare resources. A study by the Health Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) highlights how interoperable health records can save an estimated $77.8 billion annually in the U.S. alone (HIMSS.org, 2022).


In Southern Africa, where resource limitations are more pronounced, the implications are even greater. While electronic patient records (EPR) solutions are available in the South African market, their functionalities are predominantly focused on billing and consolidating medical aid scheme claims with doctors and patients. Little to know focus has been placed on incorporating a digital solution which creates a unified medical record for each patient. From this, the region stands to gain not only in terms of efficiency but also in improved healthcare delivery.


From Chaos to Clarity: Streamlining Medical Records for Better Outcomes

Healthcare facilities can no longer afford to overlook the inefficiencies of fragmented record-keeping. Implementing digital health solutions enables a seamless exchange of patient information, reducing the need for redundant tests and facilitating more accurate diagnoses. The environmental benefits of digital records also align with South Africa’s sustainability goals, presenting an economic and ethical win-win situation.


An article in the International Journal of Medical Informatics underscores the imperative of continuous patient data for streamlined healthcare delivery, cutting costs, and enhancing patient care (IJMI, 2021).


Furthermore, healthcare professionals have expressed their concerns about the administrative responsibilities that come hand-in-hand with implementing the Act, specifically in the private sector. Solving the administrative nightmare and defragmenting medical datasets is the primary focus for DigiMedi Health.


Bridging the Gap: Unlocking Cost Savings with Unified Health Records

Digitising and integrating patient records across public and private healthcare sectors is more than a technical improvement; it is an economic necessity. As healthcare systems worldwide gravitate towards unified records for economic efficiency, Southern Africa has a unique opportunity to lead in digital health innovation in Africa.


The time for change is here. The sector prepares for the inevitable foundational shifts that will follow the adoption of the National Health Insurance Act (NHIA). Converging a consolidated healthcare records solution alongside this adoption to ease the administrative processes is the obvious next choice.


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