The 21st century has proved to be a technology era, an era when humans have embraced the use of technological tools to enrich various aspects of life.
Today, modern Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) including computers, smartphones and the internet have all helped transform how people communicate and interact with each other.
According to a report by We Are Social and Hootsuite, the number of internet users now stands at more than 4 billion people as of June 2018, meaning at least 55.1 percent of the population in the world have internet access.
Various reports including the ‘White Paper 2017: Trends from the Kenyan Smartphone and E- Commerce Industry’, show that Kenya leads in Internet penetration in Africa with over 30 million having access to the internet. These technologies present great potential to solving present- day global challenges, including healthcare.
Kenya National National Health Strategy 2011-2017 noted that the Kenyan health system has been grappling with factors such as the rising cost and demand for quality health care services amidst a shortage of skilled health care professionals.
This situation thus presents a compelling need to come up with strategies and solutions of closing the gap between vision and reality. This is especially because having equitable and affordable health care to all citizens is one of the overall goals of the Kenya Vision 2030 as well as the more recent Big Four Agenda.
One such solution is Telemedicine, a phenomenon that is revolutionizing health care all over the world. Coined in the 1970s, telemedicine means “healing at a distance”. The term is also used interchangeably with ‘telehealth’ or ‘e-health’ and means the remote diagnosis and treatment of patients by means of telecommunications technology.
Telemedicine can be viewed as a means by which patients in remote locations are allowed to access medical expertise in an efficient and fast manner without the need to travel. In the same breath, the limited experts in the various medical fields can attend to patients in multiple locations without the need to leave their facilities.
According to the American Telemedicine Association (ATA) there exists 4 categories of telemedicine namely; Live Video Conferencing, Mobile Health (m-health), Remote Patient Monitoring (RPM) and the Asynchronous Video (Store and Forward).
The Association also includes a growing variety of applications and services using two-way video, wireless tools, email, smartphones and other forms of telecommunications technology under telemedicine.
According to a report published by the World Health Organization that sought to look into opportunities and developments in telemedicine in 2010, telemedicine offers numerous opportunities for all and could be beneficial for underserved and developing countries where access to basic health care is of primary concern.
WHO said telemedicine has the ability to increase access to healthcare, helping to meet formerly unmet needs.
Telemedicine applications have seen the improvement of medical care. It does this by allowing distant providers to evaluate, diagnose, treat and provide follow-up care to patients. While this is applicable to citizens the world over, it is especially impactful to patients in less- economically developed countries. This increase in accessibility also plays a big role in enabling patients to seek treatment earlier and consequently adhere better to the prescribed treatments.
Owing to its nature, telemedicine offers a reduced cost solution to healthcare without the need to build and staff medical facilities. Also, as a result of remote communication and treatment of patients, the number of visits for health services are substantially reduced. In the long run, there is reduction in construction materials, water consumption, energy, waste and the impact on the environment, which is definitely a plus.
ATA said the telemedicine phenomenon allows practitioners to consult with their peers and with clinical experts when need arises. It is also ideal for situations when the health professional has little or no expert help. This is bound to provide reassurance to both doctors and the patients involved. Consequently, the number of referrals to off-site facilities and patient transfers goes down. While the country has witnessed a slow rise in the adoption of telemedicine, the possibilities that technology and telemedicine in particular presents make it a practice worth incorporating in all medical facilities in all counties. By doing this, Kenya is going to bridge the gaps in the field of health care and consequently achieve the nation’s health goals.