In an exciting step forward for the nursing profession in South Africa, Life Healthcare was delighted to witness the introduction of telehealth services by the South African Nursing Council (SANC) in November last year. The development was brought about following a letter of motivation from Life Health Solutions who advocated for the approval of virtual consultations with patients.
Tasked with the responsibility to provide onsite occupational and primary healthcare services to our clients nationally, Life Health Solutions provides treatment for minor ailments, contraception services, preventative healthcare (like Pap smears and flu vaccines), HIV testing and counselling. With the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic and resulting lockdowns in South Africa, however, this work was severely impacted and our primary healthcare (PHC) nurses – many of whom were working from home – were unable to provide these important services to patients.
Being certain that a lack of access to nurse-based medical care would be generalised to nursing practices throughout the country, we felt it imperative to appeal to SANC to approve virtual consultations – especially given that the Health Professions Council of South Africa had, prior to this, approved online consultations for medical practitioners with certain provisos. To improve access to care during the pandemic, these provisos were later further relaxed such that the patient and healthcare professional simply needed to agree on the virtual consultation platform in order to facilitate the process.
At the time, only face-to-face consultations with PHC nurses were allowed, putting both nurses and patients – insured and uninsured – at a disadvantage. In November 2021, some months after Life Health Solutions proposed the introduction of virtual consultations, SANC responded to our letter and released a position statement on the use of telehealth consultation by professional nurse practitioners.
In its statement, SANC announced that professional nurses who hold post-basic diplomas or additional qualifications, and who are registered with SANC, would be deemed competent to consult their patients virtually in the specialty that they are registered for, subject to a list of conditions. These included the fact that there must have already been an established nurse-patient relationship between the professional nurse and the patient, and that the virtual consultations be limited to no more than two sessions in six months. It was also stipulated that the nursing care provided virtually should benefit patients equally compared with nursing care provided during face-to-face consultation.
With a commitment to providing compassionate care, clinical excellence, quality service and a spirit of giving to those entrusted to our care, Life Healthcare was delighted to receive the news that our proposed changes were implemented by SANC. The decision was of benefit not only to all of our own PHC nurses and patients, but nurses and patients around the country who would reap the many benefits of access to telehealth services at a time when face-to-face consultations were impossible or restricted.
This initiative of Life Health Solutions was a further step in our efforts to lead the way in incorporating digital innovation into healthcare, enabling us to provide our services to patients wherever they are.