Innovation from South Africa

When we, Europeans, think about our healthcare system, there is no doubt that we picture it as being one of the most technically advanced in the world. However, quite strikingly, ten years after the release of the first smartphone, doctors are still struggling to make use of this technology when dealing with their patients.

During the summer of 2014, I assisted a doctor in the remote north of South Africa. Small operations after accidents or multiple skin problems linked to HIV/aids were part of the daily business. In this part of the world, patients are traveling far to see their physician. And usually after these small procedures, they never come back After a while it made me wondering and I went to ask the doctor if people were managing everything by themselves. What he showed me then was very startling. He reached in his pocket and showed me how he was supporting his patients at home: WhatsApp. People would send him pictures and receive advices on what to do and not to do.

Every physician or intern knows that it’s often very simple questions that make patients feel insecure after visiting the clinic for a small surgery. Questions such as: when can I take a shower again? Can I go to my volleyball practice today ? Can I bike with this wound on my knee or should I take the bus to work ? Is it dangerous to swim ? My wound looks a bit greenish – is it infected ? Should I visit my GP ?

When thinking about using smartphones in Europe, you are confronted with two diverging trends :

1.The curse of having an advanced healthcare system is the myriad of regulations on safety standards, privacy, data protection and so on, which make the use of most mobile applications impossible.

2.There is an ever-growing community full of ideas, enthusiasm and spirit trying to push the boarders towards using mobile phones to support and empower patients – including ourselves. These inspiring innovators, doctors, lawyers and programmers take part in events like the recent “dutch hacking health” in order to give the final boost to bright ideas and turn them into a useful asset for our daily hospital life.

Coming back from South Arica, we formed a small team to develop an application to support people at home after surgical procedures. We called it PoliLink – Wound care.

PoliLink – Wound care is primary aimed at serving patients after small skin operations. Through this app, they could send pictures of their wound when they’re worried, get a swift feedback from their doctor, automatically get tailored notifications and advices depending on the nature of their wound, and maybe ultimately even get instructions to remove their sutures themselves. Besides feeling more secure, patients would then get the opportunity to manage their health at home, thereby saving a lot of time and energy.

So far, smartphones changed every aspect of our daily life. So why not the way we deal with our health?


Written by the Polilink Team: Leo, Lukas, Leo, Florence




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