Conrad Steyn of Cisco on Healthtech Challenges in South Africa

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Conrad Steyn, CTO at Cisco Sub-Saharan Africa.

South Africa is seeing a new emergence of healthcare technologies, an emergence that may see healthcare professionals and patients more connected than ever as the COVID-19 pandemic forces the creation of more methods to communicate remotely.

As a developing country, SA is poised to take serious advantage of these technologies in aiding the most vulnerable members of the population, but this provides its own series of risks and challenges.

With this in mind, IT News Africa‘s Luis Monzon had the chance to reach out to Conrad Steyn, CTO and Head of Engineering at Cisco Sub-Saharan Africa.

Conrad has over 20 years worth of experience in SA’s tech sector, having starting as an engineer at Telkom in 1989. Since then he has worked across the industry, most notably at Dimension Data and at Cisco, which he joined in 2007 as a consulting systems engineer.

A self-styled strategic thinker and thought leader, Conrad engages subjects like the challenges of launching healthtech innovations in a developing country, the ways in which Cisco’s IoT-enabled medical trolley makes the lives of healthcare workers easier and the security barriers put in place to protect such a technology.

Here’s What Transpired:

  • South Africa has one of the most advanced healthcare systems in Africa, but innovations and progress are constantly bogged down by issues surrounding the country’s ‘developing’ status.

Can you provide any examples that had to be overcome to launch medical IoT innovations like Cisco’s medical trolley in SA?

The goal of any modern healthcare facility includes personalising patient experiences and increasing care access while protecting patients and their personal data. On top of that, keeping costs down is a major concern, especially in light of reduced budgets and cancelled elective procedures as a result of the current health crisis.

A number of key challenges needed to be addressed, which included the fact that we needed to provide a robust, cost-effective, scalable and secure telehealth solution.

We needed to address ageing ICT infrastructure at most of the hospitals, the lack of basic wired and wireless connectivity, bandwidth as well as the lack of dedicated power at these facilities.

Finally, Cisco also needed to ensure it was easy-to-use technology with minimal training requirements and for it to support a multi-language environment.

How does Cisco’s medical trolley innovation make the lives of medical professionals and patients easier?

Healthcare providers in South Africa are rapidly deploying new workflows due to COVID-19  and are experiencing a surge in demand for virtual care, evaluation and testing, and temporary field hospitals and clinics. The different waves of the pandemic placed a large burden on medical staff and healthcare professionals.

The medical trolley allows healthcare professionals to reduce exposure by consulting in a sanitised, safe and secure video-enabled environment. Healthcare workers will be able to deliver remote consultation and care with Cisco Webex voice and video technology to patients and colleagues across multiple locations.

Cisco’s camera technology allows patient records to be shared as a whiteboard for full interactive reviews by healthcare professionals, and Cisco Webex allows real-time translation into multiple languages.

Using the medical trolley, healthcare workers can conduct large-scale video broadcasts for employees and care teams to share knowledge and expertise globally.

  • Healthcare institutions are a favourite target amongst threat actors, where ransomware is a popular strategy. Cybercriminals take advantage of the nature of hospitals and clinics where lives are at stake to steal data and money. Innovations like IoT only provide more attack vectors for criminals.

How is Cisco’s medical trolley being protected in a space where experts are currently saying that attacks are not only to be expected, they are also inevitable?

Cisco delivers a comprehensive security portfolio for healthcare organizations.

Cisco Talos, for example, provides world-class threat intelligence as part of our Zero Trust architecture allowing us to successfully block threats, contain intruders, and improve visibility to protect systems and patient data from cyberattacks with an integrated, end-to-end security portfolio.

The Cisco Zero Trust framework breaks adoption down into three pillars: Workforce, Workload and Workplace. This is to protect users and devices against stolen credentials and phishing, as well as enabling strong End-to-End encryption for meetings, respectively.

Cisco Zero Trust segments resources only grant permissions that are strictly needed, thereby comprehensively securing access across your networks, applications, and environment for your organisation. It helps to secure access from users, end-user devices, APIs, IoT, microservices, containers, and more.

Where does Cisco technological innovations like the IoT-enabled medical trolley in the future of healthcare? What will be the next major game-changer from healthtech?

Change is constantly redefining our healthcare landscape, whether triggered by technology innovations, cultural shifts, or world events.

With the focus on telehealth and virtual care growing as we continue to fight the current pandemic and continue to see the successful adoption of the service by patients. We also see the medical trolley evolving and bringing more capabilities in future.

Cloud adoption will be key to all healthcare institutions in order to deliver the expected Healthcare services at scale and at the pace required, this will allow for better integration and will see an expansion in the adoption of Artificial Intelligence as well as Machine Learning to deliver a fully digitised healthcare system possibly through virtual reality.


By Luis Monzon
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