Can Technology help fix Nigeria’s Healthcare Challenges?

LB Correspondent

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At the just-concluded hybrid Annual Business Conference organised by the Nigerian Bar Association- Section on Business Law (NBA-SBL) on the 14th and 15th of July, the tech and healthcare session provided more depth to an area that is of critical importance to the nation, considering the pandemic.

During the session, Clare Omatseye, founder, and CEO, JNC International moderated the session and began by highlighting some of the most pressing issues affecting the health sector, such as, poor infrastructure, low life expectancy, high disease prevalence, brain drain, and poor doctor-to-patient ratio.

“We lose 7 doctors per week to the U.K because of the brain drain; can technology fix this and change this narrative?”

When asked how technology could address these major challenges, Dr. Olujimide Coker, Managing Director, Lagoon Hospital noted that some of these issues were already being improved by technology.

“In terms of availability in different geographical parts of the country, the advent of electronic medical records has helped dramatically.  Centralised medical records, case notes, can be pulled up anywhere, prescriptions can be sent to pharmacies, billings, lab work, everything can now be accessed digitally. It has made these protocols seamless.”

According to him the major concern regarding this implementation is data protections and ensuring the safety of the information.  He further pointed out the benefit of Artificial Intelligence and machine learning, stating that aspects of medical practice such as radiology and diagnosis on radiology have been revolutionised through A.I.

Dr. Alero Roberts, Public Health Consultant, LASUTH provided public sector experience. When asked if the public sector was ready to embrace the technological revolution her response was a provisional yes.

She stated that the current laws and proposed laws were grossly inadequate, and these needed to be addressed first.  “There is a draft bill, The National Electronic Health Record Act, I started reading and it displays an extreme lack of deductive thinking. Long story short the bill is not fit for purpose. It seeks to control the health record account in all sorts of ways. Should the government be allowed to hold your health records? We need to look closely at other jurisdictions and examine the things we can learn from them and apply to our own environment. Who really owns the data? What is best for the patient? These are the questions we need answered by our legal friends”

She also reiterated, with alarming statistics, the damage caused to the Nigerian health sector by brain drain, “There are 74543 registered doctors in Nigeria and only 50% currently work here. We need technology to address this. “

Dr. George Nduku – General Manager, GE Healthcare, West Africa listed the ways technology could have the greatest impact. “A fully technological system will go some way to reissue the standard of care within a society of constricted economy. [Also] efficiency; the most wasted resource is time. Technology would save time a lot. For example, processes like ultrasound can now be used via cell phone.” He added that the use of technology will alleviate physician burnout as automation can simplify workflow and relieve personnel from mundane tasks.”

He further stated, “A trend that has taken hold in the pandemic, is remote healthcare through the application of big data and artificial intelligence. The imperative today is to find new ways to reach remote areas. We can predict hours in advance. You can even know when a patient is going to come down with sepsis, for example.”

On infrastructure, he stated the following,” The biggest focus should be on how to expand our telecommunication system. The improvement around virtual care is possible because of mobile phone technology.  Technology is an enabler and has been able to help with the skills required. It has also ensured that the process of care is better streamlined.

Dr. Ola Brown, Founder, Flying Doctors raised the issue of affordability, noting that 60% of Nigerians live in poverty, and with these statistics how could any adequate healthcare be provided. As a solution to this, she pointed out a few innovative startups that could perhaps address the issue of affordability. These being: Endas – a low-cost diagnostic company that deliver healthcare at 40% less that you would find anywhere in Lagos, through economies of scale and Helium health – involved in telemedicine and EMR platform that helps to enable hospitals to access credit to buy new equipments. “

Despite the issues, the overwhelming consensus was that technology should be seen as an enabler and not a replacement.

 

 

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