Kenya’s public health sector is a bit conservative in adopting the use of new technologies such as Information and Communication Technology (ICT), health experts have stressed at a high-level inaugural e-health conference in Naivasha.
“We have a current government which calls itself digital. We want to see digitization in all sectors but somehow the health sector is conservative. We are dealing with a vital sector which seems not receptive to many of these new solutions,” Dr. Peter Kimuu, of Development of Policy, Planning and Health Financing in the Ministry of Health told the conference.
While opening the three-day inaugural conference that brings together over 500 delegates from the health sector across on behalf of Director of Medical Services, Dr. Kimuu said there is the very high level commitment.
However, despite the commitment, he said what is required is to go further beyond the political commitment and actualize it.
“By politicians saying we are digital is not enough. We need not stick there. We need to go further and have the right policies, strategies and secure budget to ensure that we have full automation of the system to improve the system in the healthcare sector,” he said.
The three-day inaugural e-health conference brings together key health stakeholders, partners and the general public numbering over 500 delegates and over 5000 e-participants seeks to prepare Kenya as healthcare enters digital age.
Dr. Onesmus Kamau, head of e-health in the Ministry of Health said the e-health initiative is in the infancy stages in the adoption of e-health.
“As compared with the financial sector where we see a lot of systems in use from mobile banking and all that, health sector has seen limited use of ICT especially in the public health facilities,” said Dr. Kamau, adding that adoption of ICT in the health sector is in line to meeting the universal health coverage.
Once adopted and embraced, Dr. Kamau said automation of healthcare services will improve efficiency and quality service delivery.
He adds that with some level of automation, there is need to come up with a health sector approach that combines all the hospitals into one system to improve on efficiency.
While agreeing that funding to the e-health in Kenya, Dr. Kamau said not much resources have been invested in the health technology in Kenya, adding there needs to be a strong Public Private Partnership (PPP).
The initiative comes in the wake of an all-important health sector that is grappling with a myriad of challenges in the devolved government structure.
“Some counties are eager in automating their services in the health sector. Some of those challenges that are inherent with the use of this whole setup is the issue of energy connectivity. While we have fibre optic and Internet Service Providers (ISP), connectivity has been a major hindrance in health IT compounded with low ICT skilled service providers in the health sector,” Dr. Kamau said.
Another obstacle to adoption of e-health in the counties would be power connectivity, despite huge unutilized renewable energy such as solar.
On his part, Delano Kiilu Longwe, Executive Director Forts and Shields Limited say health financing is a key strategy that needs to be looked at.
“One of the most dramatic things Kenya has done is becoming very innovative about simple technologies. We will be looking at developing applications which are customized to Kenya,” said Longwe.
For Dr. David Soti, Head Division of Health Informatics, Monitoring and Evaluation, health sector is currently faced with human resource and especially shortage of health specialist which has encouraged referral of patients across the country to Nairobi, some of these challenges could be solved using telemedicine.
“We are in the era of managed equipment services which means we have high end equipment deployed in major hospitals across the country, but we don’t have specialists to manage these at the moment,” said Dr. Soti.
However, he says through connectivity, the internet and e-health, transferring data and images shall be able to manage patients from anywhere in the country.
The challenges, he says, include technological infrastructure and the human behavior of sticking to the manual system rather than embrace new technologies.
“We need to prepare the people who are going to use the technologies in the e-health strategy. We require people who are well versed with ICT. Doctors are mandated to manage patients but we need to invest in employing ICT specialists in the health sector to enable us run paperless system but without any hitches,” added Dr. Soti.
With Kenya known as a country with nice policies on paper but poor implementation and poor use of data, Dr. Soti agrees to this saying, “We use the data very much but we are not using it to the level that we are expected to utilize.”
Regarding funding, Dr. Soti said the funding is very low, but with proper well done data that can be defended at the treasury, funding is set to increase.
And with the United Nations terming cybercrime as an emerging transnational crime, Dr. Soti said plans and strategies are set to ensure that the move to go e-health is not attacked by cybercrime.
“Currently as we talk, we are already having a web-based un-aggregated health information called DHIS2 but you cannot find from this patients’ data level, which is secure,” he said adding that the part on security is taken care of.
He adds, “We are embracing securities that are embracing technologies that have been proven to work.”
Dr. Humprey Karamaji, the regional World Health Organization (WHO) Health System Advisor said with e-health an emerging field, countries especially developing countries should expect very high costs and mistakes in implementation.
“Because of that there are high associated costs with it which I think make a number of countries move a bit consciously to it. Once you are this innovative phase, it is unfortunate that you have to incur certain very high costs. You cannot avoid them until you have settled on the most appropriate technology that exists,” said Dr. Karamaji.
However, he said there is a lot of effort to ensure that whatever is being introduced into the country can be demonstrated in terms of value for money.
While the cost would be high, Dr. Karamaji advised the Kenyan government not to fear going into expensive innovations saying it would improve the livelihoods.
“The government should sit down and define very clearly the role that they see e-health playing in helping them attain their health goal. It should become a demand-driven e-health approach as opposed to a supply-driven one,’ added Dr. Karamaji.
It is sentiments echoed by Dr. Elizabeth Wala, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Kenya Medical Association, who says there, needs to be regulations in place to manage such innovations.
Manoel Coelho, vice president of Global Med Business says the major challenge in health sector is access globally.