The role of technology in the private healthcare sector

The COVID-19 pandemic is changing the health system and the ways that people are accessing health information. The delivery of care may look very different after the pandemic; telehealth is rapidly earning trust especially amongst generally healthy people looking for a quick sick-care visit as well as those who have more complex medical conditions.

By Benjamin Mkwizu

There have been many exciting developments in recent years around the potential for emerging technologies in accessing private healthcare options. We are now seeing many of health care providers embracing aspects of Artificial Intelligence (AI), Robotics, Data Analytics, BlockChain technology and the Internet of Things (IoT), also referred to as Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) in the medical community to enhance health services, from early detection to decision-making, treatment and care, training and research. These developments are particularly relevant in the current environment. As the industry becomes increasingly patient-centric, will the public embrace these opportunities? Are patients and consumers willing to substitute or complement human clinicians, and if so, what does that mean for the health industry?

Modern health systems can treat and cure more diseases than ever before. New technology is bringing innovation to old treatments. Yet significant quality, access and cost issues still remain areas of concern and our health systems are becoming increasingly unsustainable.

Imagine that you had a hand-held scanner the size of your smartphone that could sense, compute and record your daily health status. What if it could make recommendations so that you could achieve and maintain your optimal mental and physical condition or detect anomalies early?

Technology has had an impact far beyond health. The explosion of technology – digitally enabled wireless connectivity across multitudes of mobile devices – has created a democratization of access to healthcare. Some of the most popular healthcare apps are already available on app stores.

Harnessing this technology is providing customers and patients with data and information they need to proactively manage their own health and wellness, and to make better, more informed decisions in partnership with their health care service providers.

It is estimated that 80% of healthcare data is invisible to current systems because it is unstructured. IBM’s Watson for Health uses cognitive technology to help healthcare organizations to unlock vast amounts of healthcare data for ease of diagnosis.

In East Africa, some of these technologies are already having an impact on the healthcare industry:

  1. IoT – The use of Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) in consumer health applications is already helping people to manage their own healthcare and to keep themselves well through healthier living. We are now seeing good uptake of wearables, where users can track their health indicators and medical conditions as part of their day-to-day affairs. People can now track what they eat and customize work-out programs based on their individual health and environmental conditions.
  2. Care Anywhere – Technology is providing the opportunity for new ways of accessing and delivering healthcare, and people are taking more responsibility for their individual health and wellbeing. Citizens are more open to ‘Care Anywhere’ and health services in a non-traditional setting. Healthcare providers, such as insurance companies, pharmaceuticals, emergency responders and home care providers are becoming more and more integrated, making it possible to offer an end-to-end solution to patients. This can ease the burden on a patient when it comes to the cost of service delivery.
  3. Health related apps – Kenya leads the East African region for the percentage of adults (80%) who own a mobile phone (or have access to one). Mobile penetration in Kenya is 91%, way above the 80% average for Africa (Source: Business Today). Smartphones are already having a huge impact on how healthcare is delivered globally and this is echoed in our survey. Data obtained from health apps is now used to influence medical decisions such as insurance premiums and health plans, dietary requirements and exercise routines.
  4. AI & Robotics – Face-to-face interaction between patients and physicians is very important, yet doctors and physicians spend a considerable amount of time sifting through lab results and other patient-related historical information than actual time with patients. There is already existing technology that can perform these tasks. PwC carried out a survey to ascertain the willingness of patients to engage with AI and robotics as a means of accessing health care service and 54% of respondents indicated that they are willing to do so. The survey showed that there is more willingness in Africa compared to other parts of the world with the leading countries being Nigeria (94%) and South Africa (82%).
  5. Block chain – Block chain technology has effectively been used to manage the end to end process of organ donation within the healthcare system where donor details can be kept confidential yet can easily be matched to potential recipients. It has also been used to minimize the distribution of counterfeit drugs.

Customers, patients and private healthcare service providers have experienced the benefits of embracing emerging technologies; including:

  • A more patient-centric approach in delivery of private health care
  • Healthcare made easier and quicker for more people to access
  • Advanced technologies making medical diagnosis faster and more accurate,
  • Improved quality of treatment recommendations and
  • The experience of having your own healthcare specialist available anywhere at any time.

With all these developments, the costs of technology-based healthcare services continue to be challenging for a large number of potential beneficiaries. Data privacy concerns are also top on the list as a barrier towards embracing digital healthcare (e-health) across the region and indeed globally. Patients and customers are keenly looking forward to experiencing a more affordable and secure e-health system, accessible to everyone.

Benjamin Mkwizu

Associate Director, Risk Assurance Services at PwC Kenya

E: T: +254 (20) 285 5346

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