The healthcare sector is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 15.8 per cent from 2021 to 2030. Owing to increased population and high rate of patients with chronic complications, demand for telehealth is high.
Healthcare providers are thus adopting technology methodologies like telehealth and telemedicine to enhance their services.
Telemedicine is one of the services that rely heavily on information and communication technology (ICT) to link patients to healthcare professionals.
Telehealth could include two clinicians discussing a case over a video conference; a robotic surgery through remote access; or physical therapy via digital monitoring instruments, live feed and application combinations.
It could also involve tests being forwarded between facilities for interpretation by a higher specialist or use of artificial intelligence (AI) technology to remotely predict which chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) patients are at high risk for an exacerbation of symptoms.
In developed countries like the US, tele-technology is highly practised. New York City-based TytoCare provides patients with a device that can remotely make recordings of the heart and lungs; perform imaging of the ear, mouth and skin; and detect body temperature. The information is transmitted to the physician in real time through an app.
Statistics show thousands of people in Kenya are limited in their usual activities by chronic health conditions, contributing to their having trouble in consulting a doctor in person. But telehealth has the potential to reduce healthcare costs, improve patient outreach and health outcomes, as well as change the way providers treat their patients.
A lot of benefits
The Covid-19 pandemic has prompted the use of virtual care technology, making direct hospital consultation unnecessary at rates higher than before. Use of virtual care technology in the pandemic frontline to non-Covid-19 consultation in both in- and out-patient clinics has shown a lot of benefits from the care provider perspective and the patient’s perspective.
Advancement of tele-technology in Kenya, and Africa in general, will create room for remote patient monitoring and store-and-forward services. That will help healthcare providers to monitor and care for patients who may be too sick to go to hospital, especially the ones recovering from surgery, the elderly and those with chronic conditions.
Unfortunately, despite the Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentists Council (KMPDC) early this year approving around 20 healthcare providers to facilitate telehealth services, efforts to adopt the technology in the country face major obstacles — such as lack of advanced horizontal infrastructure (lack of technology infrastructure and low internet penetration, lack of reliable electricity in rural areas, as well as uneven regulation and legislation.
There is, therefore, an urgent need to remove such stumbling blocks to the provision of these cutting-edge technologies in the country’s healthcare sector for the benefit of Kenyans.