State of IT healthcare in Africa

September 4, 2012

In every country, health records are one of the most important pieces of information. Estimated figures shows that only 12% of Africans have available health records out of a population one billion people. Many of us change doctors several times in our lifetime therefore leading to our records being kept by different clinics or hospitals.Several Sub Saharan African states are now embarking towards transforming their IT healthcare system to ensure information is available no matter which clinic or hospital one has been admitted to. For those countries to achieve their targets, they must create a single repository for digitized healthcare records using cloud computing technology. This will enable doctors to easily access data they need to treat a patient and bring to an end old processes where doctors run computer terminals to retrieve and update their patients’ data in public clinics and hospitals and such process are prone to errors due to distractions.In most African and developing countries, such data is stored in different silos and doctors need to dig through the various stacks to get the information they need to have a better understanding of patient medical history.

When doctors need to make a decision in an emergency case, the situation can be dire.A centralized repository would help make patient registration easier because study shows that patients in most African countries have to register and re-register themselves because most hospitals and clinics do not have modern information management systems.Such development initiatives will also drastically reduce waiting times for patients seeking treatment in public hospitals and clinics across sub Saharan Africa.The most appropriate IT transformation initiatives in Africa will be the use of mobile technology that will enable doctors to retrieve the information they need on the fly via tablet computers that are easily becoming norm in African countries. Another factor African governments should consider while initiating transformation in health industry is the ability to connect with the systems of other healthcare providers to allow doctors to better collaborate and provide treatments.Having been in a dozen of African countries, I can confirm that healthcare landscape in Africa is a combination of highly infectious diseases to chronic diseases and collaborations between healthcare experts in the continent is equally critical.

According to a doctor friend of mine, treating chronic illnesses requires a lot of collaboration between doctors and therefore it is important that these experts are able to access the healthcare data they need when they are working to solve a problem especially in far flung rural areas of the continent and war torn areas where there are few medical personnel.Patients in sub Saharan Africa can benefit from an interconnected healthcare system, especially when they wish to seek a second opinion after receiving a prognosis from their doctor. An interconnected data system allows doctors to retrieve details from the first prognosis when making their assessment. Such a system will also empower patients since the resources are available to them to seek a second opinion. A transformed healthcare system driven by IT in sub Saharan Africa may sound feasible but the patient sentiment would be the biggest obstacle keeping it from happening.Many patients will be concerned about security and in some countries part of the population has expressed dissatisfaction with having their healthcare records openly available. Transformation in Africa will be driven well by the grassroots and healthcare institutions because they can entice the literate and illiterate urban and rural population alike with new services that the transformation will enable. African governments should also ensure that managing healthcare records electronically goes beyond just a patient’s name and list of medication and its important data captured by various medical tests be stored as well.

Contador Harrison