How eHealth Technologies can produce Better Outcomes and Resolve Inequalities in the African Healthcare System

Many countries in Africa are starting to adopt eHealth technologies to help in providing better healthcare to its citizens. The eHealth technologies being used are health IT, video tele-medicine and mHealth. More and more, countries across the African region are investing in health IT projects with funding from both private and public sources with the aim of improving patient care in their respective medical centers. Unlike healthcare infrastructures in Europe and America, video tele-medicine is not deployed widely in the pan-African region and has not enjoyed the success as much as mHealth. However with the emergence of eHealth start-up companies, Africa is poised to catch up to its Western counterparts. The most commonly used eHealth technology is mHealth, the use of mobile devices to offer better and efficient medical support.

In some African countries, healthcare providers are now using health IT to improve the efficiency of communication to patients and their recruitment in clinical trials. One of the most commonly used eHealth technology is electronic health records. This allows doctors to keep records of your health information like history of diseases you have had and which medications you are taking unlike before where doctors used paper based medical records to store all this information. In a country like Ethiopia, which has a population of over 96 million, more than 3,000 healthcare institutions are now using eHealth systems to digitize health records, streamline the patient experience and gather patient data which can be to monitor key healthcare indicators by the Federal Ministry of health. In Rwanda, they use an internet-based app called TRACnet which helps health workers to access, enter and share health information. It’s also used to manage drug distribution and patient information related to the care and treatment of HIV/AIDS. This has really been a critical success factor in controlling the spread of the disease in such a high mortality affected region and in offering improved access to life-saving anti-retroviral treatment. Hence there have been recently significant improvements in HIV related mortality rates and health equality outcomes from this eHealth project.

Although still in the infancy stage of development, video tele-medicine is used by doctors to diagnose patients who have no easy access to hospitals because they live in remote areas. Botswana which has a large number of its population living in rural areas have made really good use of this eHealth technology in delivering better healthcare products and services to its citizens. By harnessing the power of TV White spaces for broadband connectivity, Microsoft and Botswana Innovation Hub came up with Africa’s first telemedicine service. This service made it easier for doctors to conduct consultations to patients in the most remote areas by using Skype for business. The doctors are able to get high resolution pictures, examine the patient in real-time, make a diagnosis and prescribe treatment to the patient straight away. Other countries use this technology to conduct medical training and to interact with Medical specialists from other countries this in turn saves the patient the time and money he/she could have spent in seeking the specialist.

Undoubtedly mHealth is the most commonly used eHealth technology in Africa. With more than half a billion people across Africa now subscribed to mobile services, and with the number expected to grow to over 725 million by 2020, many eHealth startups are investing in mobile apps to accelerate the diagnosis and medical treatment and in dispatching health personnel efficiently to patients in both rural and urban areas. Applications like Hello Doctor, which is currently available in 10 African countries, provides patients with 24/7 access to healthcare advice, answers to health-related questions and connects you with a doctor. In Kenya, some of these apps are used by medical centers to schedule medical appointments for patients, where the patient gets a text message on their mobile phone. For an expectant mother in Tanzania, an app called “Wazazi Nipendeni” helps provide information on pre- and post-natal care via sms texts. Ugandan health workers use a mobile app called mTRAC to help report on medical stocks across the country. This helps in replenishment of depleted drug stocks in the medical centers nationwide thereby reducing waiting times for patients in high demand treatment areas.

eHealth technology has really helped in providing better healthcare in Africa, reducing clinical errors, managing the spread of diseases and improved distribution of healthcare to people living in the rural areas. Many eHealth technologies are innovated every day and at this rate, we will be able to overcome the challenges faced by healthcare systems in Africa.