Health & Fitness

Tech should enhance, not replace traditional medicine

There should be tighter regulation on information management, privacy and security of patient’s data. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Technology is revolutionising our daily lives and businesses across many arenas. While the financial sector in Kenya is notably one of the major beneficiaries of digital technology, transport and logistics too are catching up. However, nowhere else does the opportunity to impact humanity and quite possibly for the best goal of our lives arise than in healthcare.

Aligned on these thoughts, the International Telecommunication Union ITU Broadband Commission released a report aptly titled, “The Promise of Digital Health: Addressing Non-Communicable Diseases to Accelerate Universal Health Coverage in LMICs” a month ago.

The report is important for Kenya and other LMIC for two reasons. One is the emerging burden of NCDs, but also the limitation of resources allocated to healthcare in terms of workers, equipment and finances. To address NCDs, a smarter way of working is needed with a collaborative approach.

Secondly for the recommended roadmap towards achieving this.

Looking at the Kenyan context, the number of cardiologists, diabetologists, facilities ready for handling cardiovascular and diabetes emergencies vindicate the report’s recommendations.

As a starting point, the report recommends that the delivery model needs to adopt new approaches and technology has been cited as a bridge to solving these noted challenges. The mobile phone has evolved from a communication tool to a powerful digital health platform capable of helping improve healthcare delivery.

It proposes a shift of NCD care from facility to community based, giving patients a role to play in taking charge of their health. For this to happen patients need empowerment and increase in knowledge about their conditions. Digital tools can help in this.

Secondly, stakeholders need to adopt a proactive and predictive approach to NCD care as opposed to the current reactive one. This should also go hand in hand with long-term strategies and not the cyclical episodic approach.

However, there seems to be a challenge in delivering all these in a systematic and concerted effort. Duplicity and multiplicity associated with lots of standalone interventions exist.

Systems interoperability arises as a main obstacle towards achieving more intelligent learnings and developing solutions at a premium and in an agile way.

Yet all these are necessary data points. How do we ensure each of these communicate seamlessly?

The report recommends regulations on data management, privacy, security of patient’s health data.

Secondly with the numerous devices and equipment in the market, especially plug in wearables, there needs to be a regulation of their quality and assurances on their deliverable throughputs.

The proposed new models of care delivery, particularly where medical practice combines with a tech interface also need interrogation. As a caveat however, the role of mainstream healthcare delivery channels cannot be overshadowed even with technology. Tech should complement, not replace traditional medicine.