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Tech-enabled health

Medical practitioners, patients and fitness enthusiasts find a new lease of life in technology.

BY LYDIA MUTANU

Sixty one per cent of people check their phone the first thing in the morning. This is acording to a report published by The Hindu. Statistics also show that we invent one breakthrough today and then tomorrow’s inventors transform it into another we never imagined possible. Take 5G for example. Currently the titanic struggle of leadership of trade war between the world’s largest economies China and USA lies in the new 5G technology that Huawei, which is the second largest company in China, cracked first. Among other things, 5G is going to improve the quality of health care services and enable access in the far-flung areas. It will also be able to support a growing number of devices in everyday life from fitness tracking watches to internet linked televisions and smart speakers at home. With so much at stake, it’s no surprise that the biggest economies are at a trade war, as billions of dollars of economic benefit will accrue to the ones who stay ahead of the park. As excited as we are though, we must know the past to understand the present and plan for the future.

Investment in health-tech

In the year 2011 to 2014 USD1.9 billion was raised for companies aimed at predictive analysis in the health sector. In 2018, an estimated USD1.5 trillion was invested into wearable healthcare monitor technology and mobile applications. This type of remote healthcare has allowed a timelier administration of treatment for patients at their homes significantly reducing the cost of intervention as well as improving the quality of care and therefore changing where and how medical decisions are made and where treatment is rendered. Traditionally, we had to go to hospitals, brave the long queues to access quality healthcare. Now, we have pop up retail settings, mobile clinics and telemedicine which is the remote diagnosis and treatment of patients by means of telecommunications technology. 

Mobile Clinics

A mobile clinic travels to poor communities to provide care. The best example is the Mobile clinics from Beyond Zero Initiative led by Kenya’s first lady Margret Kenyatta which have been distributed in all counties in Kenya and in turn reduced the distance that people in the villages have to walk in order to receive quality healthcare. According to Start-up Ecosystem Report of 2017 44 per cent of e-health ventures sampled were mobile based. Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa were named as early hotspots for e-health entrepreneurs but also showed a rise in start-ups with substantial communities of e-health innovators emerging in Uganda, Ghana, Egypt and Senegal.

Personalised technology

An alternative to hospital healthcare program is driven towards patients using wearable and other personalised technology to receive variety of readings, through which they can benchmark their health and decide whether to proceed to a healthcare facility. According to CR consumer report, 65 per cent of Americans used an internet search or went to medical website to learn about medical conditions that they might have. It is easier and unavoidable especially with healthcare information automated readings from health social networks. With social media, applications which facilitate interactive web internet-based applications, it is no surprise the role that social media has played in enabling patients to detect a correlation between their condition and medication interaction, or bad health practices and use that information to make decisions on how to improve their health. Local convenience store includes home kits and personalised genomics services, blood and biomarker testing, environmental testing and even bio simulation. 

Retail Outlets

Technology has led to retail outlets in common city centres and clinics in remote locations which receive patients, review their information and decide whether to continue with further treatment with a doctor. On call doctors are also readily available online. They advertise their mobile numbers and social media platforms and answer questions and provide healthcare directives through video charts, emails or mobile calls to patients anywhere in the world. Telemedicine has grown exponentially with 72 per cent of hospitals and 52 per cent of physician groups in the USA currently providing such services. Sub Saharan Africa which is made up of 33 out of 48 global poorest countries has to extend its ICT diffusion and policy to match the ever-developing global economy. In some countries such as Ethiopia and South Africa there is significant progress in Telemedicine while in countries like Burkina Faso and Nigeria the process is slow because of lack of political support.

Technology risks on e-health

One of the risks involved just like almost every other career in the world currently is that technology will overtake the role of the doctor. In 2017 142 million medical and healthcare applications were downloaded and 65 per cent of consumer healthcare transactions were made using mobile devices. The new dynamic of doctor patient relationship requires new collaborations and business models as well as a revised understanding of healthcare company’s role in the value chain. Patient privacy is also a huge concern in medicine. Healthcare providers are often worried that technology will undermine a patient’s right to privacy.

Lydia Mutanu is a budding journalist based in Nairobi. Email: lydiamutanu2002@gmail.com

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