(Published in Daily Nation on Tuesday 19th January 2016)
Technology can help Kenya achieve free Universal healthcare, and make it efficient too.
Kenya is a country where its leaders have the temerity to gives its children dog food, as the leaders eat pizza.
Consider this; healthcare in public hospitals is pathetic. It has always been like that. The public hospitals are ill equipped, Patients share beds, subjected to demeaning service , drugs are missing, doctors are few and apart, and when they are available , they do speed diagnosis so that they can go back to private practice. This systematic ruin has led to years of neglect in our healthcare system. Persevering Kenyans are used to this. They have accepted the poor service as a standard, dreading when they shall fall sick. The struggling middle-class raise funds, take loans and insurance to go to private hospitals. They are trying to escape the failures of government, and are too busy to pressure the government to offer better healthcare.
This can change. And it would not cost an arm and a leg. Nearly all civil servants access healthcare in private hospitals. Private hospitals are doing booming business. They are equipped, pharmacies have drugs, hospitals are clean, and doctors are always on time. All this is paid by taxpayers, literally. And these private hospitals are conniving. They triple bills, conspire with patients for claims, and all manner of unimaginable malpractice.
The government could have a policy that requires patients whose bills are paid by taxpayers to only access treatment in public hospitals, from the President to the lowest ranked civil servant. The policy makers would therefore demand better services because it affects them directly, and the benefits of this would reach every Mwananchi. This way, government would prioritize healthcare the way they prioritize other infrastructure projects. Former health Minister Charity Ngilu tried to change public perception by insisting on being admitted at KNH whenever she was sick.
Assuming the 150,000 civil servants together with their families use Ksh100,000 per year on medical care, that translates to 15billion. If this is allocated to public healthcare, it is enough to build 4 hospitals the size of KNH every year.
It’s scandalous that one hundred and fifteen years since King George hospitals (now Kenyatta hospital) was built, there is no national Electronic Medical Records (EMR). According to the US which has a Health Insurance Portability and Protection Act (HIPPA), an EMR is a systematized collection of patient and population electronically-stored health information in a digital format. These records can be shared across different health care settings. Records are shared through networked, enterprise-wide information systems. EMRs include a range of data, including demographics, medical history, medication and allergies, immunization status, laboratory test results, radiology images, vital signs, personal statistics like age and weight, and billing information.
EMR systems are designed to store data accurately and to capture the state of a patient across time. It eliminates the need to track down a patient’s previous paper medical records and assists in ensuring data is accurate and legible. It can reduce risk of data replication as there is only one modifiable file, which means the file is more likely up to date, and decreases risk of lost paperwork. Due to the digital information being searchable and in a single file, EMR’s are more effective when extracting medical data for the examination of possible trends and long term changes in a patient. EMRs also facilitate population-based studies of medical records.
An EMR is ripe for Kenya which is committed to ensuring there is Internet in all health centers across the country by the year 2017. An EMR will bring efficiency to our hospitals and cut on costs, reduce the number of record officers, eliminate storage of voluminous files, and the time doctors spend with patients. Patients on the other hand will be able to access quality medical care anywhere in the country.
I hope the current CS Dr. Mailu can read in between the lines and rescue ailing Kenyans. From his resume, he’s an intelligent and accomplished man. He can convince the self-christened digital government to walk the talk. If he teams up with the ICT CS Mucheru, I believe that will be a winning combination in bringing meaningful change.
A healthy nation is a wealthy nation. With technology, and all of us eating dog food, we will achieve free universal healthcare.