by Ruth Aine - 01 July 2015
A few weeks ago, I was at home when I tried to pick something off the floor and hit my head on a door by accident. I ended up with a bleeding cut just below my spectacles. It was about 1:00 AM and I was just about to hit the road for a trip. I was confused. I did not know what to do. Do I go and see a doctor at this time? What clinics are open for walk-in patients at this time? Will I be allowed to get onto my flight? What if I have a concussion? There were so many questions; very few answers at that time. Interestingly though – within a few minutes my cut began to dry up. So, I figured, since I did not have a headache, I would go ahead as planned and if there was anything, I would face it as it happened.
In my panic, I remembered that there was a service that I could take advantage of. With the use of a platform set up by The Medical Concierge Group (TMCG)1 in Uganda, I could get onto WhatsApp or Twitter and get a free consultation, there and then. I was unable to connect with them at that time, however, when I arrived at my destination, I had all my inquiries already answered. I had a lengthy chat with a doctor for about 20 minutes as he ruled out my fears of a concussion and any other complications. The doctor actually told me: “You will need to start taking extra precaution to avoid such injuries again.” I was about to get defensive when I realized that I was very lucky. Here I was in a foreign country chatting with a doctor at no cost whatsoever, made possible by the use of technology.
The uses of technology to not only diagnose sicknesses and health problems in one’s body, but also to bring services closer to the middle class African is an interesting concept. The health care demands in Africa are changing, however, the systems that deliver health care to us are not. TMCG is bridging the gap. TMCG employs doctors and pharmacists to be able to provide 24/7 support to anyone that needs any kind of medical attention and information. Anyone that has access to a phone and is able to call the call center will be attended to. If the issue is something that can be resolved over the phone, good and well. If not, the doctors have a list of various clinics, hospitals and doctor specialists that one can be referred to. The same can be done using Twitter and Whatsapp. The initial contact can be made via the website as well and an email will be sent to one’s address with details of the inquiry.
The future of health will be the kind that has technology at all levels. A lot is being put in place to serve a growing African population who may have access to more phones than they do hospitals and clinics. The cell phones are used as tools to connect people to health care facilities. Currently Africa has 600 million mobile phone subscribers out of a total population of around 900 million people. Mobile phone penetration has exceeded 100% in South Africa and 80% in Ghana. Nigeria currently has the largest number of subscribers on the Continent, although its mobile penetration rate lags behind at 54%, according to the Economist. These numbers continue to rise high. Telemedicine and mHealth are definitely the way to go and that is the future of health care on the Continent.
Harnessing mobile technology continues to be the quick way around a health system that has become very reluctant to change. In Uganda, the doctor to patient ratio is 1 to 25,000 people. This means that most of the time, there are long lines at the health centers and sometimes, for many there are no medicines in the health facility. So technology makes life easy. TMCG is just starting out, but imagine if the services that they were offering were supported and made available to the many with mobile phones on the Continent, there would be many lives saved daily.
The role of technology in our everyday lives is something that we cannot ignore. According to the Economist, technology is a not only a huge enabler of co-operation, but it also continues to play an important role in the development of a multi-tiered health workforce. This is the kind of workforce that we need in Africa. It is expected that telemedicine will evolve to allow remote healthcare workers to confer with specialists in tertiary medical facilities to confirm diagnoses and agree on treatment. But what we see with TMCG is another way through which technology can be leveraged. I am definitely looking forward to a healthy future.