Enhancing healthcare access for mining employees - A Medshield perspective

7th June 2024

Enhancing healthcare access for mining employees - A Medshield perspective

Medshield Medical Scheme Executive for New Business Development Glen Sikosana

At the heart of South Africa's mining industry – a cornerstone of the nation's economy – lies a crucial need often overshadowed: healthcare. Hundreds of thousands of mining employees work in remote and hazardous environments, exposing them to various health risks such as respiratory diseases, hearing loss, musculoskeletal disorders and accidents. Add to this the psychological stress from long working hours and isolation from their families.

As the dust settles and the gears of extraction turn to drive our country's GDP growth, the health and well-being of those who work in this critical sector remains a concern.

It is a challenging terrain, but here's what we do

Each mining facet presents unique challenges and opportunities, from platinum to coal, diamond to gold. Some main issues are geographic isolation, resource constraints, occupational health risks, cultural and language barriers, and economic barriers. Here are some immediate steps to address these challenges:

Improved healthcare cover: Mining companies, as responsible corporate citizens, should ensure all employees have adequate medical aid cover through comprehensive health plans as an employment requirement, including specialist care and hospitalisation, and include contract and temporary workers in these plans. Medshield Medical Scheme's commitment to tailored solutions is evident in its collaborative efforts with mining companies. We have long-standing partnerships with mining companies to provide quality healthcare offerings, such as endorsing internal gap cover for occupational hazards and ensuring seamless integration with existing healthcare infrastructure in case of emergency medical care. The MediPhila benefit option, for example, addresses the sector's distinct healthcare challenges.

Partnerships with public healthcare: Mining companies and the Government should work together to strengthen public healthcare systems in mining regions. Public-private partnerships can enhance healthcare facilities' capacity to serve mining employees and the local community. In this regard, the implications of the recently signed National Health Insurance (NHI) Act cannot be ignored. The NHI's intent is commendable as it aims to address systemic challenges in our healthcare system and to ensure that every citizen has access to quality healthcare. However, we do not believe the Act in its current form will achieve this intent. The implementation of the NHI will take many years to implement, with many hurdles to overcome, including legal challenges from different stakeholders. 

Medical schemes are a national asset and should continue to play a significant role in providing access to quality healthcare now and in the future. That being said, regulatory reform is necessary to facilitate the provision of low-cost benefit options to fulfil national health cover. Extending cover to a broader population, including the underserviced populations in the mining industry, is crucial. Medshield remains resolute in its commitment to adapt and provide accessible and affordable healthcare solutions, underscoring its dedication to ensuring equitable healthcare access for all.

Telemedicine and mobile health: Leveraging technology can help bridge the gap in healthcare access for remote mining workers. Understandably, this also requires substantial member education to explore and leverage current technology. Telemedicine platforms can provide remote consultations with specialists, while mobile health clinics can deliver essential services to workers on-site. Medshield's embrace of technological advancements in healthcare delivery aligns with the industry's evolution. Our SmartCare platform facilitates convenient healthcare delivery, ensuring quality services are available regardless of geographical barriers.

Health awareness programmes: Mining companies should implement health education programmes to raise awareness about occupational health risks and promote preventive measures. Regular training sessions can empower workers to safeguard their health proactively. By aligning product offerings with industry needs, Medshield emerges as a trusted partner in preserving the health and well-being of mining employees. Collaborative efforts with mining companies extend to organising wellness screenings and health risk assessments, fostering a culture of proactive healthcare management.

Mental health support: Companies should prioritise the psychological well-being of mining employees by offering mental health services, creating a supportive work environment, and promoting work-life balance. Medshield's proactive approach to addressing the unique healthcare risks within the mining industry is notable. All our benefit options include a mental health offering that caters to the specific needs of mining employees.

Charting the course to a healthier future

At Medshield, we are aware of the unique challenges faced by the mining sector, as well as the need for increased penetration and tailored approaches to meet the diverse needs of mining companies. Medshield's approach encompasses various facets, demonstrating a commitment to seamless healthcare access. There is a delicate balance between tradition and progress as we continue to serve the industry's stalwarts while pioneering new care paths.

Written by Medshield Medical Scheme Executive for New Business Development Glen Sikosana