World Bank Lead Health Specialist Khama Rogo said with technological advancements, provision of healthcare no longer required direct contact between a doctor and patient.
He told Capital FM News that advancing E-health could also be used to bridge the gap of health workers and bring down the cost of healthcare.
“Technology has now made it possible for people to interact without seeing each other or being in the same room. The health sector offers some opportunities where that can happen and technology now makes it possible for us to get the best possible advice or even treatment for somebody who is not in the same room with you or information,” Rogo noted.
In Kenya, the doctor to patient ratio is said to be one doctor for every 17,000 patients. This is way below the World Health Organisation recommended one doctor for every 1,000 patients.
“For Kenya and Africa, this is a particularly interesting challenge because often we have very few experts who are not all over the country. So E-health is a way of trying to bridge that distance so that even people who are not in the presence of a doctor or any other technically competent person can access and benefit from that information without necessarily having to travel the distance,” he said.
“This is what E-health is about, bringing in the advantages of technology to make it possible for people to get what they want whether they are medical products or advice from somebody who is an expert but it not there with them,” Rogo added.
He said that the infrastructure needed was the same as that being used to roll out electronic communication.
“For Kenya we are lucky that we are extending the cable system all over the country and that should be adequate to handle quite a bit of what needs to be done,” he stated.
Rogo said E-health could be used for curative, preventive and promotive health care.
He also dispelled fears that this could be prone to numerous medical errors.
“There are diagnostics that are complex and there are those that are not and there are several ways of using E-health. You can use it directly to offer advice, you can use it to advice somebody who is in the same room with a patient. For example somebody in Garissa who probably is less qualified in a certain field and he has a patient there, we can talk, I could even see the patient on a video screen and advice on what to do,” he explained.
He added: “There are errors even on face to face so it is not a question of the technology; it is a question of how you use it.”
World Bank Health in Africa Initiative Policy Officer Jorge Coarasa said the national health strategy launched last year provided two avenues of E-health. These are using technology in various forms to improve what the health system already does and using technology to provide services that were previously not available.
“One way technology is improving and has a potential to improve access to affordable care is by taking it where previously it wasn’t and you have already examples of mobile phones being used to remind people to take their drugs and this brings the medical profession closer to patients that otherwise it wouldn’t reach,” Coarasa said.
He said another advantage of using E-health was that it could empower the citizens.
“This can lead to what we call in technical terms horizontal inspectors. In other words, every citizen becomes an inspector and is empowered to hold health care providers accountable for the quality of care they deliver,” he said.