Last week I prowled the Internet in search of usage of information and communication technologies within the country’s health sector.
I can now report that there isn’t much going on.
A search for “e-health” returned no results on the medical services ministry website while a search for “ICT in health” yielded seven hits of how the ministry plans to use ICT, all of them administrative.
I did an identical search on the public health and sanitation ministry’s website, and the outcome was similar.
No results for “e-health” and a few administrative hits for “ICT in health” explaining the role of the ICT department in the ministry.
The health sector is a large and complex social service sector and is defined by a high degree of standardised procedures and professional norms.
These procedures and norms are sometimes used as an excuse by doctors and other medical professionals who are reluctant to adapt new technologies.
In fact a doctor friend of mine tells me that the medical fraternity took ten years to fully accept the stethoscope, which is now a symbol of prestige for every doctor.
There has been enormous investment in the construction of new health facilities and the re-equipping of older ones with critical health care equipment and technology.
This is important.
But, ICT has the potential to turn around the sector both at the professional and administrative levels.
Recent developments in ICTs have enabled the use of informatics in healthcare service provision.
Loosely referred as electronic Health (e-Health) this is the intersection of information science, computer science, and healthcare and can encompass a range of services.
These may include health information management systems, telemedicine and consumer healthcare.
The sorry state of most public health care facilities is testimony to the fact that public health facility management suffers from inefficient management practices.
A basic health information management system (HIMS) can improve the ability to collect, store and analyse health data, increase data accuracy, increase accountability and even improve the tracking of health trends.
With this information on hand, it can lead to better healthcare planning, improved diagnosis and more patients getting access to health care services while at the same time hospital staff are enabled to work more efficiently and professionally.
This is already happening in some private hospitals who are already benefiting from the promise of technology.
stance recently upgraded their HIMS into an integrated system that consolidates information and provides a foundation for a unified creation, storage and retrieval of patient data.
This is what the public sector needs to emulate.
Looking at the Ministry of medical services service charter and its accompanying strategic plan for 2008-2012, it is clear that there is some acknowledgement that ICT can assist the ministry achieve its KPIs, however, most of this appears to target at the communication aspect of communication ignoring the “real” power of health informatics that can deliver all the strategic objectives of the ministry.
The health care sector is expected to play a critical supportive role in maintaining a healthy working population which is necessary for the increased labour production that Kenya requires in order to achieve its vision of a “globally competitive and prosperous country with a high quality of life by 2030” - adoption of e-Health could be the answer.
Hare is the Director at African eDevelopment Resource Centre based on Nairobi. Follow him on [email protected]