Technology to direct resources where they are needed most

South Africa’s COVID-19 cases are beginning to rise rapidly, with about 1,000 new incidents a day. Many suggest this is just the start of the exponential curve to come, especially since the country moved to Level 3. Given this, it’s inevitable that resources will run thin. Tech solutions must work together with human field workers to use real-time results to allocate scarce resources to where they’re needed most. That’s where 4IR tech like the Vantage platform comes into play to guide leaders with real-time decision-making support to drive action.

Jeremy Flax, the VP of Product Experience at BroadReach, a group of social impact businesses keen to empower action to change lives – says that, not just in South Africa but in the majority of countries around the world, there is always going to be a challenge around having enough resources such as health workers, PPE, critical medication, ICU beds or ventilators. This means anticipating areas with the highest disease burden and balancing supply and demand will be key.

“This must be done at a granular level to ensure a quick turnaround and the most effective decisions. Swift response times save lives. That’s why we believe Vantage, our advanced analytics and AI-powered cloud platform, is useful. To date more than 1.7 million people have been screened via the Vantage Community Screening app – a significant COVID-19 milestone, but even more important when it can be overlayed with supply data”

Here are some insights into the tech solutions COVID-19 requires, based on Flax and Bernard Katz’s, Senior Manager of Product Management at BroadReach, experience:

  1. A hybrid approach: It’s extremely hard to balance resources against need. A tech response alone will never work. As with everything, it’s about partnerships: man and machine. We advocate a hybrid approach that uses data captured by fieldworkers to inform the tech solution, and visa versa, i.e. tech informing healthcare leaders.

Through our nearly two decades of population health management, we can understand the core needs of our clients and manage the greater population’s health. They are not analysts and data geeks, they are health professionals and they need easily navigable solutions that provide best practice guidelines, simple workflows, and next steps. We have been doing this through Vantage in our HIV and TB epidemic control work since 2014.

  1. Top-down data: As we get deeper into the pandemic, new questions constantly need to be answered. That calls for agility. Tech-solutions should facilitate an approach where priorities can be shifted in real time, empowering velocity not just at the national level, but also at a provincial and even ward level.

Geomapping is crucial to focus appropriate strategies at a regional level. Vantage uses GPS coordinates to pinpoint the location of screening and testing activities and has been identified by Microsoft as one of the top solutions for COVID-19. The aggregated data collected from these activities can then be presented as clusters to support decisions such as staff and resource allocation. By drilling into ward-level, resource reprioritisation can be faster and more effective. For example, right now, there is surplus demand for testing kits and as the pandemic progresses there could be an increasing shortage of ventilators and ICU beds. So, we need to focus on allocating resources to areas with the direst need. The same goes for healthcare workers. Where will they have the most impact?

  1. Several sources: Patchy data is a consistent issue in public healthcare. COVID-19 has been an eye-opener, exposing a challenging data environment for everyone. We use data at different levels of completeness, from different sources, to inform our seven tech-led solutions through the Vantage platform. Rigid data pipeline management means myriad sources inform a single line of sight. This means you can get a coherent picture, despite the challenge of multiple sources.  Creating this picture isn’t possible without partnerships. We rely on our partners across the board – Microsoft, PEPFAR, USAID, departments of health, healthcare workers, community workers and more – to collaborate around data and execute on it.
  1. Action and answer-focused: It’s imperative COVID-19 tech solutions are action-focused. They need to benefit the user experience and make people’s lives easier. They need to empower people to ask the right questions – and then provide an answer that involves an action. They need to meet the user where they are by providing the right information via the right channels, for example, our COVID-19 map gives you prioritised actions to take, according to a colour-coded set of infographics that can work all the way from national down to ward level. Leaders receive daily prioritisation emails to pinpoint action and healthcare field workers can communicate with each other in the app in real-time to ask for support like additional PPE, etc. All these are measures that allow healthcare professionals to rapidly respond to the job at hand.
  1. Speed is crucial: As a country and continent, we need to move away from paper. Real-time intelligence is critical to speedy decision-making. That requires digitalisation through careful change management and training.

Vantage is a cloud-based platform built on Microsoft Azure. This means that data from the app can be loaded in real-time onto the cloud, enabling us to be good data citizens and share this with the national command centre to inform leaders’ decision making, minute by minute.

  1. Scale up: Solutions also need to be geared to scale. We have done over 1 million screenings to date, currently completing 60 000 screenings a day, and 323 a minute at peak times – so we have scaled rapidly these last 40 days! Tech needs to be fit for purpose and built to scale. Our partnership with Microsoft has enabled us to do this; using its trusted infrastructure gives our clients increased levels of security in their data, access permissions based on their specific needs and the ability to seamlessly ingest almost infinite data into the cloud.

Katz concludes, “Tech for tech’s sake won’t work. Right now, we need to leverage partnerships to give action-focused insights that reprioritise resources to where they’re needed most. Vantage’s value lies in its ability to layer supply (e.g. hospital capacity) and demand (patient need) information to provide an overall picture of the readiness of the health system – from the highest level all the way down to the granularity of ward level.”


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