HEALTHY TECHNOLOGY

SA health care gets technology boost

Digitally connected
Healthcare reform

Metropolitan Health has teamed up with IBM to use technology and big data, including “cognitive processing”, to bolster the capabilities and effectiveness of health care in the public and private sectors.

Big data will change the way South Africans receive health care and how medical schemes administer it and Metropolitan Health, one of the country’s largest medical scheme administrators, wants to be at the forefront of the change, says CEO Dylan Garnett.

The company, which has 3m individuals on its books, is deploying “cognitive processing” and other advanced technologies in the hope of bolstering the capabilities and effectiveness of health care in the public and private sectors. It’s signed a broad-ranging agreement with IBM to do this.

“If used strategically, technology can assist in transforming the entire health ecosystem and it permeates every dimension of health care,” Garnett tells TechCentral. “We believe that the right technology applied in the right environment and with the right intent is a powerful tool.”

Metropolitan’s collaboration with IBM is meant to provide better and more cost-effective services to members and the medical schemes that serve them. And large volumes of easily accessible data will play a key role, says Garnett.

The company operates one of the largest medical schemes in South Africa, serving approximately 3m individuals across 19 medical schemes and a number of large corporations, including Absa, Standard Bank, First National Bank, Woolworths, BP Southern Africa, Engen and Pick ’n Pay.

Metropolitan Health is also the administrator of government’s employee medical schemes. It forms part of MMI Holdings, a financial services group that was formed after the merger of Metropolitan and Momentum in 2010.

Garnett says Metropolitan Health plans to collect and analyse large volumes of patient data and give that data context. “This will allow us to make smarter decisions and constantly adapt and improve our offerings, allowing us to reach far more South Africans.”

The challenge is taking raw data and turning it into something that will allow medical scheme administrators to have a “useful conversation” with their clients, he says. This could mean selling them new products or simply offering them medical and related advice.

In medical terms, contextual data is key to giving patients the best advice possible, while collating medical data so that it is accessible by the doctor or specialist providing care is imperative.

Patients’ records are typically made up of structured and unstructured data. The latter is typically made up of data sets that are not easily or broadly accessible — doctors’ notes, for example, or a patient’s lifestyle habits. Cognitive processing can play an important role here.

In layman’s terms, cognitive computing is the process of taking complex data sets and information and using clever algorithms to derive knowledge and context from the data.

The goal of these technologies is not only to provide better health care to patients, but also to provide more accurate risk assessments.

 

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