After months of planning and conceptualising, it was time for the nine student-led teams tasked with developing avant-garde solutions to some of the deeply rooted challenges in South Africa’s beleaguered healthcare industry to show industry experts what they had come up with.
The initiative – the Futures in Health Accelerator Project, led by the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) Surgical Society (SurgSoc) – offered students from across faculties an opportunity to join forces and develop futuristic ways in which to improve healthcare in the country.
Spearheaded by the SurgSoc’s Liam Devenish (fourth-year MBChB/MSc), Sipho Ndereya (fourth-year MBChB) and Matthew Potter (final-year MBChB), the project takes the form of a student-run incubator that seeks to assist multidisciplinary teams to cultivate disruptive ideas with one common thread – to advance this crucial sector.
On Thursday, 31 October, teams were allocated just seven minutes to pitch their novel ideas. Similarly, a panel of industry experts was allowed seven minutes to ask questions, provide suggestions and, where necessary, poke holes in their concepts.
“The programme is intended to facilitate learning and growth, incubate disruptive ideas and foster social innovation.”
The ideas varied from developing an application to reduce patient waiting times at healthcare facilities to consolidating patients’ health records in a single, easy to use application, among many others.
“The programme is intended to facilitate learning and growth, incubate disruptive ideas and foster social innovation that is sustainable, economically [viable] and underpinned by a design-thinking approach,” Devenish said.
Medla was one such innovative idea. The proposed one-stop-shop aims to consolidate personal records using a smart technology application, giving patients easy access when they need it most. The concept looks at ways in which patients can tap in online, check their medication lists and what the medication is needed for, and even examine records from their last consultation with their doctor.
The proposed roll-out is easy: Patients would register online or download the application to start their Medla journey.
Qut is a similar concept. The scheduling system seeks to enable healthcare providers to reduce waiting times at facilities, and address non-arrivals as a result of a protracted in-hospital system – a common problem in South Africa.
It examines the best ways to eliminate queues, by scheduling visits, booking appointments and selecting a clinic and time slot that suits the patientʼs individual needs. The system is designed to empower patients to make use of a simple, flexible and accessible platform, via cell phone, that collects data and improves patient flow.
Potter told the audience that the idea for the project came after they had witnessed first-hand the number of challenges faced by South Africa’s health sector.
“We work in a system that is overburdened and it’s debilitating to say the least, even at this early stage in our careers,” he said.
It’s not a case of not having enough medication, or even enough hospitals, he added.
“[It’s] a fundamental disconnect between what we understand [are] the needs in South Africa and what we actually have available in the sector.”
To help get it right, he noted, making use of the resources, regardless of their limitations, and drawing on the expertise of professionals in other fields for different ideas is key.
“We exist at this amazing university where the most talented students from around the country and continent come [to learn]. We are excellent at developing these students and academics, but we keep them in these very narrow silos,” he said.
“We need to develop ideas around how to address problems in South Africa.”
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