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My top 5 takeaways from eHealthAFRO 2017

The eHealthAFRO 2017 conference took place from 2 Oct to 3 Oct 2017 in Johannesburg. I attended this conference as part of the South African Health Informatics Association (SAHIA) organising team. Our objective was to host the Health Informatics South Africa (HISA) Journal Club, an academically focused research program embedded in the main event.

Before I list my top 5 takeaways from the event, SAHIA congratulates Sean Broomhead and the African Centre for eHealth Excellence (Acfee) team for a great event. It was disappointing that some of the keynote speakers could not attend but this did not detract from the overall quality of the event. If Acfee manages future events on the same principles, the event may well become “Africa’s premier platform for eHealth leadership stakeholders engagement". As Sean wrote in his article:

Now to my 5 top takeaways from the event.

5: The HISA Journal Club:

I’m going to be a bit biased here and add the HISA Journal Club hosted by SAHIA at number 5. The main takeaway from this part of the event, was that research and education are critical to delivering eHealth in Africa. By giving students an opportunity to present their research, SAHIA and eHeathAFRO gave them the opportunity to be part of the mainstream eHealth discussion. This hopefully will inspire more students to look at Health Informatics, Imaging Informatics and ICT in healthcare as a future career path. One of the pillars of our eHealth strategy in South Africa is to build capacity and to do that we need to review our education paths and assist candidates in becoming Health Informatics Professionals.

4: “Practical end to end interoperability in the public health care system” – the African Health Information Exchange (AHIE) Project, demonstrated during the use case bazaar.

This project is a collaboration between the University of Cape Town (UCT), Department of Health (DoH), Health Systems Trust (HST), Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), Jembi Health Systems (JHS), the National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS) and the Western Cape Department of Health (WCDoH) in response to the HIV and tuberculosis epidemics in South Africa. Yes, quite a mouthful.

During the use case bazaar, the 6 practical presentations combine to showcase how patients were being identified with the Health Patient Registration System (HPRS), how this identification was linked to the Primary care clinics data by using the Integrating the Health Enterprise (IHE) Patient Demographics Query (PDQ) profile. The development of a web-based discharge summary application, that is fully interoperable with the WCDoH’s Patient Master Index (PMI). The WCDoH’s Provincial Health Data Center (PHDC) initiative which “...functions as a nascent HIE, combining standards-based interoperability solutions with bespoke data take-on processes to consolidate all available clinical data”, and finally the Single Patient Viewer (SPV) which provides a way to use the data in the PHDC for practical benefit to the patients.

My main takeaway from this demonstration was that once you have established a Unique Patient Identifier (UID) across the enterprise then you have the power to use the data effectively. The UID in an eHealth system is one of the critical foundations of that system. I came away from the presentations realising that the public sector is way ahead of the private sector in this development.

3: Support from the rest of Africa:

It’s always exciting for me to see representation from other African countries at the event, and a standout in this regard is the leadership of the persons who attend. Their progress, achievements, challenges and contribution to the discussion are always inspiring and add huge value to the discussions here in South Africa.

I got the impression that eHealth development in Africa is in good hands, as long as we all remain committed to openness and collaboration with each other, let’s learn when we don’t know the answers, and share when we do.

2: A roundtable approach:

A big vote of confidence should be given to the organisers roundtable approach used during this event. The principles of this approach are that delegates are seated at round tables during the main plenary presentations after every session 20 to 30 minutes are given to the delegates to discuss and produce a single actionable statement, per table, which is noted on a coloured board. These are then collected and posted on viewing boards around the venue for delegates to read. At the end of the conference, delegates are given 5 votes to vote for which actionable statements they most agree with.

Although it takes some effort and prompting to get delegates to open up, discuss, commit and produce an action point on the various topics, and often some of the time allocated for this discussion is taken up by presentation overflow and general event time management. The method does provide a great opportunity to capturing the thoughts and insights from the floor. It will be very interesting to see the collated results of this voting process in the Acfee event report which hopefully will be published soon.

1: Making progress and moving forward

I’m always struck by how one is inspired and motivated by events like this, we see opportunities, we network, we learn, we think, we dream, but shortly afterwards we return to our day jobs and that inspiration and focus dissolves. For us to make progress and move forward in the eHealth space we need to work at it, we need to be committed, we need action points. I can only hope that the Acfee event report will point us in a focused direction, give us some actions to work on and provide us with the opportunities we need to make a difference in providing enabling solutions for better healthcare in Africa.

I’m already looking forward to next years event and hoping that through SAHIA we can strengthen our partnership with Acfee and other stakeholders, provide a strong channel for eHealth academic research and education, and facilitate discussion between the public and private sectors.

More about the Author:

Clive Daniell is a Health Imaging Informatics Professional, Consultant and Trainer. He is currently president of the South African Health Informatics Association (SAHIA), and specialises in PACS/RIS/eHealth/interoperability and eHealth standards and is the founder of In2pacs and In2pacs Academy.

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