Local app helps health workers co-ordinate their patient care
• Communication and collaboration tool is already in use at 50 hospitals, clinics and practices
The news is bleak right now as most people — let’s hope — heed the nationwide lockdown orders. We’re apart but not alone, it seems, as something like a quarter of the world’s population retreats into their homes. And none too soon, as we’ve surpassed 780,000 confirmed Covid-19 cases worldwide. At the time of writing, SA had 1,326 confirmed cases and three deaths.
It was in this context that I recently spoke to veteran tech entrepreneur Andrew Davies, co-founder and CEO of Signapps, a home-grown tool for mobile messaging designed for the health-care sector.
Signapps long predates the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, but chatting to Davies, it is clear that this tool is coming into its own at a fortuitous moment and can be used to support health care at a time of unprecedented need. And our digital start-ups (and big business) can all be of assistance right now given the right regulatory conditions.
The idea of Signapps was to create a communication and collaboration tool that has the familiarity of something like Whatsapp but the functionality and security needed to co-ordinate patient care responsibly. It is already in use in more than 50 care environments, mostly hospitals, clinics and practices (both public and private).
“What is very interesting,” Davies says, “is that we have seen a massive ramp-up of activity on our platform in our non-Covid-19 related business because people in the medical field are implementing social distancing.
“General health-care services still need to be delivered.”
In terms of the coronavirus specifically, this tech is allowing the flow of information among task teams, hospital group headquarters, medical aids and those on the front line. That’s everything from care protocols to logistical info and feedback about successful treatments, capacity and so on.
It creates a platform for digitising data for practitioners not necessarily associated with a hospital or clinic, or directly involved in the care of a specific patient, to provide remote input to care teams.
Davies says he is seeing incredible work as health care scrambles to ready itself. “There is rapid preparation on the ground at every level — public and private sector. We haven’t seen the volumes of infections that other countries have yet, but they are expecting the numbers to go up.”
I asked him what he is hearing about the mood in these spaces.
“Our health-care providers are naturally stressed — for their own safety, for the impact on the population, and the necessity to isolate themselves from their families during this time.
“They are also focused and up to the challenge. We are so grateful for them.”
He sang the praises of President Cyril Ramaphosa, who he says is facing a lose-lose conundrum. “Everyone knows this is going to have a significant impact on our economy, but what do you do? You’ve got to respond to the potential human cost. It is early days, with lots of speculation about death rates ranging from 0.6%-3%.
“The problem is getting a grip on the denominator — how many people are actually infected. The government must constantly analyse the data to inform its response. Everything we’ve seen indicates that they are doing exactly that. By global standards, SA’s response has been excellent.”
Signapps is trying to do its bit, having taken a decision at board level to remove any limits on the “freemium” version of the tool, called Signapps Serve, to support public health for a period of six months.
Davies is well established in the tech scene, so I asked him what other local tech companies are doing.
In health care, he identified
Vula Mobile, EMGuidance’s Guidepost and Recomed.
Beyond healthtech, he points to load-balancing software developer Snapt discounting its products to health-care providers under systemic pressure; Sweepsouth supporting its contractors (domestic workers) to stay safe during lockdown; and transport specialist GoMetro pulling together a plan driven by data to provide co-ordinated staff transport for essential services sites. For health workers it has also launched a clinical front-line staff transport service.
Davies is upbeat: “Our biggest problem remains that we don’t have helicopter money to throw at the problem.
“We have to innovate and work within our means. These are the positive things that we can focus on, and I think everyone can do something.”
If only the call to innovate will be heard on the other side, that of local regulators and government. These have been slow to change to allow for things as digital consultation between doctors and patients, while startups have been poised to step in and fill the gaps.
Maybe this crisis will be the turning point, so our healthtech sector can benefit from the successes of fintech locally.
OUR HEALTH-CARE PROVIDERS ARE NATURALLY STRESSED … THEY ARE ALSO FOCUSED AND UP TO THE CHALLENGE
WE HAVE TO INNOVATE AND WORK WITHIN OUR MEANS. THESE ARE THE POSITIVE THINGS WE CAN FOCUS ON