Information technology takes on HIV-Aids

Magome Masike. © Unknown.
Magome Masike. © Unknown.

Advances in IT technology present a significant opportunity to deal with the economic consequences of HIV and Aids.

Advances in IT technology present a significant opportunity to deal with the economic consequences of HIV and Aids.

According to Magome Masike, business development director of Healthcare, Oracle South Africa, this can only be achieved with a centralised, integrated view of healthcare and disease information.

It is clear that HIV and Aids have the potential to influence the lives and families of many South Africans in a major way.

But with suitable treatment it is possible for many of those infected and their families to lead better lives.

As a society, this should be a goal we all strive to achieve.

From a business perspective, there has been a lot of discussion about the effect of these diseases on the economy if we fail to develop effective treatments and support structures for those suffering from them.

"As an IT professional I must declare an interest, but I believe IT has a critical role in meeting the challenges that these terrible diseases inflict on individuals, their families and the South African nation," Masike said.

Developments in IT can help overcome some of the challenges facing the provision of healthcare to citizens, including the way healthcare information is handled, stored and delivered.

Everyone recognises that healthcare is one sector where the need for effective handling of information is prevalent.

Unlike other sectors, people's lives are at risk if healthcare information is not accurate and managed properly.

Proper management and accuracy is an absolute necessity to assess the economic effect of HIV and Aids , and the development of effective solutions.

With the right use of technology, patients and their carers will be able to see all the background relating to an individual case and South Africa, as a country, will be able to see the big picture in terms of disease management.

It is difficult for health authorities to gain a single view of the challenges thrown up by Aids and HIV because it is handled in individual silos relating to various diseases, and then silo'd again according to region.

If the data is integrated and dealt with on a national basis, it will enable the authorities to create countrywide measures of the service provided to patients and to better manage treatment programmes.

There are well-documented challenges associated with the collection of information.

Antenatal clinics often only collect information on female blood and not on that of males.

Healthcare information gets duplicated if an individual gets tested in multiple provinces, which skews healthcare metrics.

This makes a case for integrating patient data from the different occasions they interact with hospitals, doctors and clinics.

If carers have a single view of every interaction between a patient and medical professionals it leads to faster and more accurate diagnosis and treatment.

The first step in using IT in the challenges of Aids and HIV is to improve the quality of healthcare information by developing better methods of data collection, and by enabling all national healthcare information to be studied as a whole.

An integrated national healthcare repository where patient and other data is stored and related into meaningful information will deal with the delays and opportunities for human error that accompany a paper-based environment, with parts of a patient's record stored on multiple, disparate systems that do not speak to each other.

It will be no simple task to reach this goal of consolidation.

Where there is infrastructure in place, work will need to be done to ensure interoperability between medical applications and above all, protect patient data with robust security solutions.

Using standards-based IT systems will be critical to the successful integration of healthcare systems from the different provinces, so that information can be brought together on a centralised registry.

But it is critical that such a system is not imposed from above. Unless all stakeholders agree to use a common system, it will be impossible to integrate the different IT infrastructures.

Another key issue is timely delivery of accurate information.

As in any other disease management scenarios, information must be delivered to the right person in the right format and as rapidly as possible. A multifaceted and diverse approach is necessary.

This is especially vital to effective drug distribution, where much money is lost and dangerous situations are created because of misinformation.

This should be enhanced with proper monitoring so that, when drugs are distributed, feedback is obtained as to the patient's reaction to the drugs and their progress towards health.

Effectiveness can then be evaluated and national policies formulated or adapted according to outcomes. It is essential to have this information to help treatment protocols and improve effectiveness.

"As a company providing most of the solutions in local hospitals, Oracle believes it has a vital role to play in healthcare going forward," Masike said.