Wilkinson pointed out that value-added systems - like peer group information, care pathways, knowledge bases, clinical alerting - all help to increase the effectiveness of the implementation.
Added to this, he notes: "the health record information must be available on any device, at any time in any place - you need to be able to push clinical records to smartphones, and be able to complete online, real-time updates of medical records.
Business manager of medical solutions at Siemens, Francois Nolte, spoke in detail of the growing importance of molecular medicine - a field he believes will drive the trend towards more personalised and more patient-centric healthcare.
"Molecular imaging delivers the truth faster, since changes in the function of cell activity always precede medical conditions."
"The best way to predict the future is to create it," says Nolte, quoting Swiss writer Peter F Drucker.
CAPE SUCCESS STORY
The Western Cape`s provincial government representative Dr Rosemary Foster showed some successes in the province`s health records system.
Currently, all three central academic hospitals in the province, all eight regional hospitals, and all 22 district hospitals are part of the functioning system. But most impressively, 23 out of 59 community health centres have also been connected.
"With the community health centres, a year ago there was nothing. The staff morale was very low, there was a lot of change going on, the patients were in long queues and waiting from 4am in the morning, and the files were very disorganised."
Arguably one of the most important functions of community centres is to roll out anti-retroviral treatment for the HIV-infected, and Foster explains that distributing ARVs requires centralised records keeping.
However, deploying these systems came with various challenges - most of which could be described as `psycho-social`, describes Foster.
"The capturing of data was seen as an extra workload, people didn`t welcome the increased management involvement and supervision, some were resistant to changes in work processes."
Another big issue, she noted, was the shifts in power that came along with the technological shifts - with those who understand the system better tending to rise in power in a centre, often against the established hierarchy.
LEARN BY EXAMPLE
Historically, the healthcare industry suffers from a chronic underspend on IT, with doctors and hospitals spending about 2% of total revenues spent on IT (compared, for instance, to financial services at 10% and consumer services at 7%).
This is the context within which any IT in healthcare discussions should take place, notes Dr Gregory Cline, Intel`s digital health director.
He says that, locally, people should look at the successful adoption of technology by some other hospitals around the world. One of the best examples, he notes, is that of St Vincent Hospital in Alabama.
"This is a 388-bed hospital that wanted to track patients and assets in order to optimise resources and improve patient throughput. They deployed 23 LCD panels, 51 touch screens, and three servers in the wards."
Cline notes that the observation time per patient was hugely reduced, patient throughput was increased by 19%, and revenue was up 11% ($5.5 million). All this was from a once-off investment of $1 million.
There is no reason why similar tech investments cannot bring the same returns for South African hospitals. Even without such an impressive ROI, the increased patient throughput is something of which the local sector is in dire need.