eHealth as the future of medical care delivery
I will start by asking some questions – How can we connect patients with providers? How can we improve healthcare outcomes while providing better care to Nigerians, such that, every citizen and individual can access it at any time and at any location?
The current challenges in the country are such that 80 per cent of hospital visits do not require surgery, and while over 85 per cent of healthcare providers are located in cities, more than half of the population (over 100 million Nigerian) do not have access to quality healthcare because they do not live in cities. In addition, the country is experiencing healthcare infrastructure challenges and deficits. Some of these challenges include: isolated and decentralized legacy systems used by different providers, leading to fragmented patient health records spread across several health systems. As it stands, Nigeria is on track to become the third-largest country in the world by 2040, and as a result the growing demands for access to quality healthcare will continue to increase. In addition, as we begin to digitize our healthcare delivery value chain, the challenges of processing complex protected healthcare information (PHI) become multifaceted. Complexities in managing healthcare data require an unconventional approach, including adopting advanced and integrated technology solutions and leveraging a secure, compliant and cost- efficient platforms and ecosystems.
One of the innovative technology approaches for digitizing care delivery and expanding access is expanding telemedicine networks across the country. This will ensure, every child, every mother, and every citizen, at any location and at any time can access quality healthcare services. Telemedicine could provide cost-effective, timely and quality care, help bridge the rural-urban gap in healthcare delivery, expand access to underserved communities, and serve as a platform to train local medical professionals, augmenting their knowledge and expertise.
At the heart of a telemedicine solution is the Electronic Health Record (EHR).
EHR is a unified electronic health record/exchange, an electronic infrastructure to record and store all patient information. EHR is critical and vital for validating patient information and health history. EHR will make it easy for patients, providers, and institutions to assess a patient’s health history and arrive at a more accurate diagnosis – overall improving health outcomes and lowering the cost of care.
Imagine a scenario where a physician can order an electronic prescription, which is seamlessly, transmitted to the local pharmacy for patients to pick-up their medication, or a platform where lab test results are readily shared with healthcare providers over a secure and compliant platform. EHR platforms provide necessary flexibility for electronic exchange of PHI between service providers and platforms within the care delivery value chain.
Leveraging on the functionality of EHR can help solve the problem of lack of interoperability, and significantly reduce many medical errors. With proper implementation and training, electronic health records is a viable source in monitoring prevalent diseases and epidemics and informing stakeholders and health agencies about the population health.
EHR solutions and platforms have been implemented successfully in other advanced countries. Scandinavian countries have long implemented EHR solutions and have continued to reap the benefits and promise of such systems in expanding and improving healthcare outcomes. However, such solutions do come with some common challenges with implementation. These include high initial acquisition cost (including implementation), integration and interoperability, and required change management that comes with adopting new technologies.
The potential solutions to these challenges are known and include leveraging advanced and innovative technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and cloud technologies to deliver value while reducing cost; government providing financial incentives to healthcare institutions and providers to adopt the solution by creating enabling policies to drive adoption and augment costs; and adopting an innovative platform such as Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) platform for a secure and integrated interoperability.
The full benefit of the EHR solutions cannot be fully realized until enabling policies and regulatory environments are put in place. These regulations include protected health information (PHI) data privacy and security, incentives (in the form of loans and tax holiday) and audit policies, policies on an interoperability standards and enacting laws legitimizing healthcare electronic health records and signature.
There is a growing range of healthcare-related services (such as tele-consult, e-referrals, remote monitoring): users can consult with doctors via video-conferencing, electronic prescriptions, and collaborating with hospitals to develop a solution to manage patient care. These solutions would require an interconnected electronic health records that can be accessed seamlessly by ecosystem providers such as pharmacies, labs, diagnostic image providers, etc.
The Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Cloud technologies will play significant roles in the patient care journey into the foreseeable future. For example, if you call an ambulance in an emergency, the ambulance operator and receiving hospital could immediately have access to the patient’s electronic health records, details of health history, current prescription medications, allergies, existing medical conditions, etc. This depth of information will enable providers to swiftly make better quality healthcare decisions, improving outcomes, potentially eliminating costs and saving critical time.
I am excited to continue this conversation with interested stakeholders, leaders, and government officials to make this a reality in Nigeria.
*Awotunde has diverse experience in industries that include information technology, biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.