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Kenyan hospitals are sitting ducks for digital disruption

By Peter Opondo | May 5th 2021
The Nairobi Women's Hospital Adams Arcade branch. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

If you desire to be an innovation catalyst and a creative problem solver, then you might want to become what management practices writer, Tom Peters, calls an “observation freak.”

In Peters’ estimation, everyone keen to create new value by unlocking challenges must carry with them a bug list; daily compilation of “the good, the very good, the awesome, the ugly, and the awful.” Often, it is the irritations, frustrations or awful experiences that provide seeds of opportunities for value creation and appropriation.

Here is one observation I shared recently on my personal blog.

It takes a patient between 45 minutes to one hour to see a doctor at the Nairobi Hospital. The whole process from registration, to triage, to seeing a doctor, could take nearly two hours during peak times. If the doctor recommends laboratory tests, then the hospital visit could take up to half a day. But should this always be the case? Is there anything hospitals could do to improve patient experience?

There is definitely technology available today that can enable a patient remotely alert the hospital that they are on the way for a visit. In which case, the hospital could initiate the patient registration process; first by estimating the patient’s location and estimating how long they could get to there through apps like WhatsApp, Here WeGo, GoogleMaps or Waze. If a repeat client, the hospital can have all medical history information retrieved. The hospital, too, can remotely confirm the mode of payment.

With Apps like Vital Signs one can remotely measure heart rate, systolic and diastolic blood pressure.  At this stage the need to physically see the doctor can be eliminated altogether with the medic using the information obtained to assess and reach out to the patient for virtual consultation and prescription of tests or medicines. Speaking of laboratories, shouldn’t they be a shared infrastructure service, almost like the nearest mobile money transfer shop?

If this were to happen, hospitals would drastically reduce the waiting period and the painfully slow process and improve the overall patient experience.

E-medicine or telemedicine aren’t new concepts in Kenya, but why aren’t they going mainstream? Why aren’t the big hospitals embracing them? Why are patient outcomes not the key drivers of healthcare provision?

“Often the problem is we do not view quality from the point of view of the customer… we define what quality is to them. To truly provide quality care, one needs to listen to the voice of the customer- their journey begins long before they see a doctor. Anything that does not add value to the patient is a waste. Innovation can definitely begin to solve some of these problems. But it requires systems thinking and not merely pushing a stand-alone tech product,” wrote Jean Kyula, the country head of Helium Health.

What health care providers should appreciate is that most of their customers belong to the “unsatisfied” category. These are the customers who don’t like your service or don’t have the best experience but use it because there is no better alternative. The day a better alternative arrives they will jump. When it comes to digital disruption, most of our healthcare facilities offer an opportunity for savvy investors to put their foot in the door.

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