Hopes, fears as uptake of telemedicine spreads


Francis Osiemo(inset), a Medical Clinician and the Chief Operating Officer of Sasa Doctor at his Clinic in Westlands, Nairobi attends to his client through Phone telemedicine on May 15, 2020. PHOTO | EVANS HABIL | NMG

Mzee Julius Osekule, 61 is an entrepreneur who has been suffering from High Blood Pressure for the past 10 years. His ailment requires special attention. With the introduction of telehealth, Mzee Osekule was relieved as he could consult doctors at his comfort zone.

“This was a good invention. I can easily consult my doctor and even order medicine online. My main worry is my personal data,” Mzee Osekule says.

For Joshua Rabala, 32, he prefers visiting a doctor to using digital health services citing concerns about the security of his private data. He claims that his personal data are at risk as most mHealth apps are prone to attack by cybercriminals.

“I don’t feel safe using telehealth. I fear my personal data can be leaked. There are some ailments that I would rather talk to my doctor one on one rather than have a video call or use mHealth app,” says Mr Rabala.

According to the new research by Kaspersky, nearly nine out of ten healthcare organiSations in META provide telehealth services but 99 percent of patients have mistrust issues regarding their personal data privacy and security.

Out of the 86 percent of the healthcares that use telehealth, 63 percent of respondents have experienced cases where patients refused telehealth services due to security concerns.

With the effect of Covid-19 across the globe, most healthcare organisations invested more in telehealth and virtual care solutions.

Just like a coin with two sides, the invention of mhealth apps has been received with mixed reactions.

“According to our research, 67 percent of META respondents believe telehealth services will add the most value to the healthcare sector within the next five years,” says the report, adding that professionals note that remote medicine is practical and attractive in many ways, with advantages such as immediate reach, less disease transmission between patients and staff, and the ability to help more people in a smaller time frame.

The report finds that just over half of META organisations (53percent) agree that most of their patients are more interested in remote than in-person sessions because of their convenience.

Other attractive telemedicine features for customers are that modern technologies save time, effort and money and provide the opportunity to consult with a more experienced specialist.

The research found that 51 percent of patients who use digital platforms are under the age of 50, underlining the perception that old people avoid the modern ways of health provision.

The most popular service used by 67 percent of patients is synchronous telehealth such as real-time communication with patients, including video calls or chat. The second most popular service across META is synchronous telehealth (44percent), followed by remote monitoring via wearable devices (41percent).

This method collects and stores patients’ data in a secure cloud-based platform for further use by a treating professional.

Yet 84 percent of META respondents experienced cases where patients have refused a video call with medical staff, with 63 percent reporting that people declined tele-health services due to privacy or data concerns. Other reasons cited included a general lack of trust towards telehealth (40percent), unwillingness to appear on video (55percent) and the absence of correct equipment (26percent).

“Trust has always been important to the healthcare sector. But today, as more and more medical organisations rely on technology and digital offerings to support their services, patients also want to feel confident about the privacy of their medical data,” says Evgeniya Naumova, Executive Vice President, and Corporate Business, at Kaspersky, adding that this means the level of trust within the industry is inextricably linked to a provider’s ability to ensure the safety of the sensitive information they collect, share, and store.

“With rapid development and complexity making the healthcare industry more lucrative to malicious actors, now is the time for healthcare institutions to make cybersecurity their first priority,” he says.

“They should evaluate their current level of defense, and wisely adopt the appropriate solutions and tools. This way, they will build a brighter future where distance or cybersecurity risks won’t be a barrier and everyone can receive high-quality medical help. ”