How can Africa benefit from technologies that are transforming healthcare
BY AYO BAMGBOYE (AHIN):
In this modern time the only thing constant is change. There are reports of changes in telecommunication. Even in the remote parts of Africa, lots of people are using mobile phones to communicate and transmit health data. The question we must ask ourselves is, is that all that could happen in Africa? There are many technology platforms and systems that can capture patient information and made it available to clinicians or health practitioners where and when it’s necessary.
A visit to most government owned hospital or private clinic would show technology gap in Africa healthcare management. At the accident and emergency unit, long queues and scores of feeble patients are constant. Doctor’s ratio to patients is very low. But these are not the main issue. The major problem is there is no patient record available to support effective care: diagnosis and treatment.At the heart of the hive are few nurses and perhaps a doctor faced with the dilemma of how to treat first without facing any backlash.
Where could technology help?
An experience that a patient doesn’t like to have is repetitive documentation. When a patient makes a return visit to a hospital they assume that they their case is unique and that somebody will remember them. This may sound crazy but it’s true. Even in the developed world this expectation is evidenced and it’s been addressed with electronic record and information sharing practices within the healthcare domain. We have to recognise the fact that Africa is still far behind due to known circumstances. However, Africa health decision makers or healthcare managers need to realise that a mountain is as big as you want it to be. African hospitals need to start moving away from cardboard cards and capture more patient demographics to make each patient case unique. This exercise can only be effective using electronic platforms. There are proven patient/clinic management systems that could address the rudimentary need.
African women seem to have high pregnancy mortality rate. A research shows that even in the United States “African-American women are three to four times more likely than white women to die of pregnancy-related complications. African-American women are more likely to die from ectopic pregnancies and preeclampsia. African-American women are also more likely to leak amniotic fluids during pregnancy, which can lead to infection. For African-American women, the risk of pregnancy-related death goes up greatly with age”.The UN estimates shows that 4,500 women die each year in South Africa due to preventable and treatable pregnancy- and childbirth-related causes. One in 19 Kenyan womenwill die from pregnancy and childbirth-related causes. The causes of high pregnancy mortality rate has been traced to the following
- Complication during pregnancy
- Unsafe abortion
- Bleeding after childbirth
- High blood pressure during pregnancy
These all point to the fact that we need to have a good record keeping to help doctors and nurses to have clinical notes or patient’s historical record to provide diagnose and provide effective treatments or care. To facilitate record sharing a dedicated database or maternity system would be needed. Don’t forget it doesn’t have to expensive or be a sophisticated software system to make it work. Using technology in healthcare doesn’t end with buying or having somebody to pay for it. The most crucial aspect is about imbibing a continuous record capturing and entering culture to ensure that the databases or the systems are firstly not empty but, contains a reliable and accurate patient data.
In most hospitals A&E are the gateways to the hospital admission wards. Thus, it’s crucial that doctors and nurses are able to attend patients quickly to save lives. In Africa, the ratio of doctors to patients is abysmal. The best ratio on the continent is between 10-20 doctors to 100,000 patients. Therefore, effort should be made into looking to provide expert systems like Triage databases that senior nurses could use in reducing the number of patients waiting to see doctors. Thereby saving clinical time and releasing time to care for critical patients. These sort of system are been used in developing countries to manage patient care at out –of hours period. This system could find their unique use in Africa
In conclusion, people who are familiar with the Africa continent would find 1001 reasons why the suggested systems or technology platforms would not work. Rather, try and focus your energy on how we could eliminate or reduce the impediments to the successful implementation of these systems in our hospitals. In addition, it’s imperative as we are looking forward to the future that we should start looking within in search for technology and systems that we would use in our healthcare. For instance, K-Pad is mobile device that could be adopted in our hospitals because the manufacturers are local. In addition, the manufacturers are well aware of the landscape and environment in which the devices will be used. Lessons must be learnt from other projects in which foreign technologies were adapted but didn’t work out well due to suppliers lack of understanding of the environment.