Nairobi’s fast internet access, a relatively high smartphone penetration and a rise in demand for contactless healthcare has kept the telemedicine sub-sector competitive, with solutions from local and international markets being devised.
The latest in a field of more than 60 mobile apps and web-based platforms is MyPocketDoctor.
The 15-year-old Danish innovation, which launched in Kenya last week, seeks to offer affordable, flexible and quality primary healthcare.
The firm has partnered with Nairobi-based payments software company Tracom Services which is present in 28 countries in Africa. The company is seeking to cut the long trips to health centres and even longer waiting hours in hospitals across the continent.
Founder and chief executive of the telemedicine platform Mads Kjær Larsen told the press that since 2006, the firm has been providing remote telemedicine service by reducing the cost of healthcare through the application of advanced telehealth solutions and Big Data analytics systems.
“The Kenyan office will be the main one for all African countries. The app is highly scalable and cost-effective with an affiliated pool of doctors and specialists, e-health solutions, electronic patient journal, health screenings, chronic disease management programmes, remote monitoring, mental health treatment, e-prescriptions and medicine delivery,” he explained.
While most Kenyan apps rely on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Google’s cyber security to protect patient data, MyPocketDoctor is the first in the country to deploy the decentralised, immutable nature of blockchain technology to ensure patient private information does not leak to third party apps.
“It is an application-based business that is using next-generation healthcare technology - blockchain for cyber security purposes. Patients can access it by sending an SMS from a feature phone,” he added.
Mr Paul Njau, director at Tracom Services said the amalgamation of telehealth and seamless payments will be critical in easing medical bill payments across countries that use different currencies.
“Telemedicine has never been as crucial. We aim to tap on the experience of this firm to grow the African e-health sector through fast and tailored payment solutions that include everyone,” Mr Njau said.
During a global pandemic where telehealth has emerged as an effective and sustainable solution for precaution, prevention and treatment to stem the spread of Covid-19, solutions of varying potential have been key to keeping communities healthy.
“The entire process of consulting a doctor located anywhere in the world and getting a prescription is 29 minutes. Traditionally, this would take at least six hours,” said Mr Lawrence Kinuthia, the platform’s Country Manager.
He added that the firm has done over 150,000 medical consultations through videoconferencing, telephone calls, text messages and online chats over the years, and recruited over 50,000 doctors and medical specialists, the highest number now for any telemedicine app in Kenya.
Patients on the platform pay between Sh974 for consultation of any medical condition, an amount that is much more affordable compared to the regular Sh5,000 in many hospitals.
MyPocketDoctor kicked off in the Scandinavia market, servicing insurance companies, municipalities, and private companies, before reaching the Philippines in 2015.
Mr Larsen said the app has bridged the gap between patients, healthcare workers, and the healthcare system, enabling everyone, especially symptomatic patients to stay at home and communicate with their physicians through virtual channels, thereby helping in reducing the spread of the coronavirus to mass populations and the healthcare workers.
The growth of telemedicine in Africa has been possible because of the vast human resources on the continent, with the The Lancet medical journal dubbing sub-Saharan Africa as the new breeding ground for global digital health.
However, telemedicine in Africa is still hampered by low access to basic infrastructure such as steady electrical power, low 4G network coverage and slow broadband internet service.
Patient barriers to accessing and using telehealth services, such as the negative perspective of orthodox medicine residual in some communities, still need to be addressed using a continuous learning approach.
Major stakeholders such as community and religious leaders still need to be sensitised about the power of contactless medicare.
African governments need to develop the right policies needed to guide the implementation of telemedicine across the continent within the ethical confines of medical practice.
Regulation of the scope of care, as well as minimum criteria for practitioners and facilities, are still a challenge but a public-private partnership could change the e-health landscape to a holistic ecosystem.