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Health

How technology has improved healthcare

Kenya’s adoption of mHealth (health solutions through the mobile phone) has seen e-services for healthcare delivered to hard-to-reach populations.

By JUDY OGUTU

A few years ago, technological breakthrough in healthcare sounded like science fiction. Today, these innovations are quickly becoming reality, drastically changing the healthcare sector across the world. Looking back at the history of medicine, we see a journey replete with advancements – ranging from robotics, digital technology and artificial intelligence – all with potential to greatly improve healthcare. In the same breath, technologies such as mobile and internet which have a high penetration rate in Kenya have greatly contributed towards improved access to healthcare. According to Oxford Business Group, the Kenyan Government and the private sector have been looking at ways of using mobile technology to improve access to healthcare. Owing to expansive mobile phone penetration, there has emerged a strong base for provision of e-services for healthcare, enabling industry players to extend their services to hard-to-reach populations.

e-Health Policy

In June 2016, Kenya launched its e-Health Policy (2016-2030). Over the years, the country has witnessed the growth of mHealth, a pillar of Kenya’s e-health strategy.

Globally, technological advancements in the health sector have greatly impacted on disease diagnosis, treatment support, patient tracking using digital medical records, supply chain management, health financing and emergency services. In an interview with Management Magazine, Dr. Jeldah Mokeira says the above are some of the key areas when it comes to provision of healthcare services. “In addition to improving service delivery, automation of services provided to patients from registration to discharge has greatly contributed in reducing human error and assisting in accurate billing,” she notes. Through technology, patients can verify the authenticity of medical products. 

Digital technology and Big data

In October 2018, Dzau J and Balatbat wrote an article titled Health and societal implications of medical and technological advancements which was published in Volume 10 of the Science Translational Medicine. The duo points out that some of the most important advances in the health sector are in areas of digital technology and big data. “Vast amounts of health data are being generated and captured in real time, which will play a critical role in the development of a learning health system,” the article read in part.

As much as they have a global outlook, East Africa, especially Kenya has made remarkable technological advancements in healthcare. In a report dubbed Healthcare Innovation in East Africa: Navigating the Ecosystem, four researchers, Odero, P. et al reiterate that Kenya is a growing hub for Information and Communications Technology (ICT), with ICT innovations being designed specifically for the healthcare sector. “Given the quick and strong development of ICT sector in the region, our research anticipates ICTs continuing to be fundamental to a large proportion of emerging innovative healthcare organizations,” the researchers say.

In January 2018, Research and Markets, a global market research company named Kenya as one of the leading countries in e-health and telemedicine alongside South Africa and Ghana. In its report, Enabling eHealth Technology in South Africa, Kenya and Ghana, Kenya is home to companies such as MYDAWA which was launched in March 2017. The company, which is a digital service enables consumers to conveniently purchase authentic medicines and wellness products. It uses technology to dispense medicine and health products through a mobile app.

According to the company’s Managing Director, Tony Wood, MYDAWA features a unique mechanism that gives back control to the consumer. In an article published in CIO East Africa in January 2018, Wood was quoted saying that once a prescription has been uploaded online, the customer can use the mechanism to establish authenticity of products from source without compromising on their privacy and convenience. 

Improved imaging

Last July, healthcare practitioners gathered for a 3D printing in healthcare symposium at the Aga Khan University. In an article published in Business Daily on July 10, 2018, Dr. Chris Muraguri, Founder of Micrive Infinite which works closely with surgeons to provide 3D printing services told the gathering that technology had made it possible to reconstruct faces for patients after damage due to cancer, gunshot wounds or even accidents. 

According to Muraguri, maxillofacial prosthetic teams convert patient computerised tomography (CT) scans into 3D printed replica models. “Specialists used a CT scan to create a 3D reconstruction of the man’s face, a replica of his mouth was then printed and used as a template to produce a model, which was then hardened and fitted with teeth. With the prosthesis adjusted to fit snugly in place, the man’s chewing, swallowing, speaking and other mouth movements considerably improved,” Dr. Muraguri said. 

Looking into the future, Dzau and Balatbat predict that Artificial Intelligence may improve healthcare by helping clinicians to make better diagnosis and treatment decisions by transforming the way patients make personal and healthcare decisions. “In the future, Al-based personal health assistants could support patients in achieving better health, for exampls, by reminding them when to take their medicines.” Their prediction is echoed by Daniel Newman, in an article published in Forbes Magazine who listed telemedicine, artificial intelligence and IoT among others, as top technological trends.

Judy Ogutu is the client services manager at Inter Management Group Kenya. Email: ogutu.judy@gmail.com

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