Telemedicine throws a lifeline to patients and healthcare practitioners during Covid-19

Healthcare practitioners and their patients have been hard hit by the crisis in healthcare caused by Covid-19. With hospitals bursting at their seams with sick Coronavirus patients and a lack of essential supplies to treat patients - exacerbated by the past unrest in South Africa - many patients who would typically go to a hospital or seek the services of a healthcare professional have chosen to stay home and self-manage their ailments for fear of contracting the virus. Furthermore, many who have contracted the virus are also at home as pathways to accessing medical care have become far more challenging in the current environment.
Many elective surgeries in hospitals were cancelled during the third wave as tightened its grip and hospital beds are filled with Covid-19 patients. Dr Karon Marx, a Johannesburg-based specialist anaesthetist, says the impact on patient care is very worrying and that healthcare professionals' ability to maintain their medical practices is also under threat. "Turnovers and incomes have plummeted as practices have stood mostly idle. The cancellation of elective surgeries has a tremendous knock-on effect through the medical value chain. For example, if a surgeon doesn't operate, then there is no need for an anaesthetist, a radiographer, radiologist, or physiotherapist, in instances where post-operative rehabilitation is needed."

General practitioners (GPs) have also felt the heat, says Johannesburg-based GP and medical entrepreneur Dr Paul Freinkel. He says, on average, GPs have experienced a 60% to 80% drop in patients and income during each wave of the pandemic.

With conventional pathways to medical treatment hindered, healthcare professionals and their patients are turning to telemedicine as a means of patient care. Dr Marx says telemedicine is currently playing a huge role in reducing patient anxiety, decreasing the risk for those with acute and chronic conditions, and provides financial benefits for patients. "Being treated sooner means fewer complications with less financial impact." Dr Freinkel adds that a large portion of his patient care has been online during the second and third waves of the pandemic.

However, not all healthcare practitioners feel able to pivot so easily to telemedicine.

While it has been successfully practised for more than 20 years around the world, Dr Peter Cruse, Head of Henley Business School Africa's new School of Health Management, explains that the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) only relaxed regulations governing telemedicine in March 2020, thereby permitting its use.

As a contribution to the healthcare profession, the School of Health Management has launched a new online programme for healthcare professionals. "Our Future-proof your Healthcare Practice programme assists healthcare practitioners to develop a future-fit business model, hybrid in nature. It enables healthcare practitioners to introduce another layer of clinical service and quality medical care into their practices through the use of telemedicine.”

Dr Cruse adds that the failures in healthcare during the pandemic have generally not been due to poor clinical service or bad medical care by healthcare professionals. The clinicians have rather been let down by substandard management of the 'back office' – failures to properly mobilise nurses and medical staff, source sufficient oxygen and ventilators, and to have enough beds and medications in stock. “The course gives practitioners the healthcare management tools they need to manage their practices better, while also giving them future-proofing skills to navigate the ever-changing environment," he said.

Participants learn how to navigate, innovate, and connect with a future healthcare ecosystem, where patient records are digitised and shared digitally among medical professionals when patients are referred. They learn the best ways to ensure patient dignity, privacy, and safety; make virtual house calls; digitise their practice operations; build a virtual consulting room; and learn how to create virtual pathways for optimum patient care and experience. Participants finally complete a 90-day action plan during all five modules to develop their new telepractices.

"We give them a cookbook of ideas for them to future-proof their practices. They then pick the ingredients that best fit their practice. The action plan requires them to think deeply about the actions they are going to take to virtualise, digitise and pivot their business so that they end up with a plan that is unique to their practice," adds Cruse.

Jon Foster-Pedley, Dean & Director of Henley Africa says, “Henley understands the predicament that healthcare practitioners have found themselves in and their frustrations in not being able to provide, in some instances, the level of care their patients need. We believe this course will assist healthcare professionals to find ways of ensuring the sustainability of their businesses while also forging new paths to providing quality healthcare for their patients. The course challenges mindsets and encourages participants to think critically about their businesses and how to overcome challenges through innovative ideas."

Dr Cruse, the programme director, is well-known in international medical circles. He ran two successful Harley Street practices in London, has led hospitals, laboratories and clinics in the Middle East, and was a former Professor of Anatomical Pathology at the University of Cape Town, and Chief Specialist at Groote Schuur Hospital.

The programme is suitable for all healthcare practitioners in both the public and private sectors, medical and dental, generalists and specialists, nurses, and allied healthcare professionals such as biokineticists, physiotherapists, dieticians and nutritionists.

The course curated and led by Dr Cruse runs over six weeks, with one hour of self-study with scripted videos, audio, case studies and articles followed by two hours of live online lectures from 4 pm to 7 pm every Wednesday. It was designed by Dr Cruse and Professor Martin Hall, former deputy vice-chancellor at UCT and features world-class lecturers from the US, China, UK and South Africa, including Foster-Pedley. The course is accredited for 30 CPD points Level 1 by the HPCSA, including the categories of Law and Ethics.

Because Henley wants to support healthcare practitioners during these trying times, it is offering the programme at a 40% discount (R10 925 VAT inclusive) for the duration of the pandemic. To sign up for the course, visit www.henelysa.aca.za.
What our alumni are saying about the new programme:

Dr Govindsamy Govender, CEO of ECIPA Healthcare, who sits on the Medscheme IPA Forum and the Discovery Health Family Practitioner Advisory Board:

"I found the course informative, offering macro and micro views taught by well-informed, erudite speakers, including colleagues that are in practice. The course sharpens one's critical and analytical thinking. I also enjoyed the leadership aspects and the points on business acumen. It was valuable information to enhance one's medical practice. Digital technology and remote patient care are inevitable in the evolution of healthcare. So, whether one wants to embrace it or not, it's going to happen."

Dr Minesh Ramanlal Hira, MBBCh (Wits)

"The experience of the course was valuable. It challenged my thinking and made me realise the world was moving at a blistering pace, and we were at the beginning of a revolution in the way future healthcare is practised. I was so inspired and motivated that I began implementing solutions that I had picked up in the second week. Our practice became aware of future legal challenges, and we incorporated some solutions to improve our practice as a business. By the end of the course, we found ways to increase the foot traffic through our doors from a segment of the patient population we were neglecting. The course is special in that it teaches you to think about your situation and motivates you to come up with solutions, as there is no one-size-fits-all solution that every practice can adopt."

Henley Business School
Henley Business School Africa, is the only international business school that boasts triple-accreditation status from the foremost accreditation bodies in the United Kingdom, Europe and the USA, along with accreditation by South Africa's Council on Higher Education.

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