The role of mobile in the healthcare sector
In Africa, the healthcare sector continues to struggle to meet the needs of an increasingly expanding population. Insufficient access to quality health information, inefficient processes along with various geographical challenges continue to pose a threat to adequate healthcare delivery on the continent.
In recent years, the mobile phone market has witnessed rampant growth, becoming one of the most ubiquitous pieces of technology in Africa.
We take a look at the potential that exists for the healthcare sector to capitalize on mobile technology in order to deliver more efficient and effective services to the population. According to Seth Berkley, CEO of GAVI Alliance and founder, president, and CEO of the International AIDS Vaccine Institute: “Mobile communication can help bridge a huge knowledge gap and reimagine healthcare across Africa”
Reimagining healthcare in Africa
Strengthening the healthcare system is key to improving future growth and developmental prospects in Africa. Population health has a direct and marked impact on economic and social prospects, and has been seen to impact important factors such as country’s GDP.
Key healthcare challenges in Africa include:
- Insufficient access to healthcare, particularly in more rural areas
- A lack of human resources
- Poor access healthcare information e.g. prevention practices
- Insufficient resource for training adequate numbers of doctors and nurses
- Lack of coordination between key players in the healthcare sector
Increasing staffing levels, addressing infrastructure deficits, reducing the medical skills shortage, and growing financial means are all key to improvement. At KPMG, we believe that information and communication technologies have the capacity to transform healthcare delivery and advance the overall quality of care. A number of mobile tools including SMS messaging, voice call, wireless data and Internet accessibility have the potential to facilitate the dissemination of health-related information and we are seeing their application in a global setting.
According to Darrell West, Director of the Center for Technology Innovation at Brookings Institution, “mobile technology is helping with chronic disease management, empowering the elderly and expectant mothers, reminding people to take medication at the proper time, extending service to underserved areas, and improving health outcomes and medical system efficiency.”
We believe that this successful application of mobile technology can translate for our local markets, where it is estimated that at least one in six people owns a mobile phone. It is estimated that this figure will continue to increase with the mass-adoption of the technology set to continue at a similar pace.
Overcoming the healthcare hurdles
Surveillance and reporting
Tracking the spread and pervasiveness of disease has been a challenge across the continent; relying predominantly on “sentinel sites and modeling estimates” says Berkley. Through mobile, a new stream of reliable, real-time data is now available – giving insight into “who is dying and from what, who is sick, and where the clusters of disease are occurring.” Having this type of healthcare surveillance at hand, allows accurate and effective strategies to be planned and implemented on a national and global level.
Improving systems for data collection is definitely a positive first step in improving healthcare delivery and practices in Africa. The data needs to be used effectively to inform and progress decision-making and planning. Furthermore, it is important that this data is fed to the correct points in the healthcare network, and that it is widely accessible. ICT has the capacity to facilitate this transition, and to drive the necessary changes.
Stock and medication supplies
Access to medicines and maintaining stock supply at local clinics and hospitals can be a challenge with varied degrees of access to amenities. With mobile technology, monitoring stock levels and preventing any unnecessary shortages can be achieved more efficiently. Having the capacity to treat patients on site, and having the right medication and equipment on-hand is key to delivering effective healthcare services.
Urban migration and migration patterns in general, create a challenge around the accuracy and maintenance of medical records. Mobile technology has the ability to create a central database for all patients, easily accessed regardless of the facility visited. This will assist in preventing duplication of diagnostic tests, which can result in additional expenses being incurred and the waste of valuable, often limited, resources.
Appointment, vaccine and medication reminders
Scheduling appointments, creating reminders of these appointments, vaccine schedules, and medication collection reminders can all be achieved through mobile, and will greatly facilitate better health standards, and a higher level of service delivery. It may also alleviate many of the frustrations experienced by healthcare professionals in Africa, where inconsistency in keeping to medication schedules can result in more resilient disease strains.
Infant birth registration and mortality rates
Through mobile technology, infant mortality rates can now be accurately measured. In some instances, children are born at home and not officially registered. If the infant does not survive, they are usually buried at home and no record of their existence is ever made. With new programmes and processes in place, children born at home can be registered via mobile. In the event of their death, this can also be registered providing officials with a more accurate headcount for infant mortality reporting purposes.
Improving healthcare in Africa
The opportunities for mobile to improve healthcare delivery and reporting in Africa are infinite. We believe that innovation, entrepreneurship and the pressing need to improve healthcare delivery will push new solutions to market at an increasing rate. We hope to see solutions for Africa developed by Africans. Furthermore, we believe that Africa can become the benchmark continent in technology-driven efficiency in healthcare.
Have you come across any interesting applications of mobile in the healthcare sector? If so, we’d like to hear from you – share your story in the comment section below…