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Digital tools key in expanding Kenyans’ access to healthcare

OPINION
By David Kuria | March 28th 2021

David Kuria, UAP Old Mutual MD Insurance Business.

Imagine a world where doctors reconstruct human skin using advanced systems or scientists re-configure existing medicines to treat diseases such as cancer.

Think of medical pills remotely controlled to deliver drugs to certain organs in the body.

This is not science fiction but real trends in modern medicine powered by digital technology. Disruptive technologies such as artificial intelligence, big data, nanotechnology, 3-D printing and robotics are making such ground breaking innovations possible.

The impact of digital innovation in health care is already being felt in Kenya, thanks to exponential growth in mobile technology coupled with the widespread use of smart devices.

Studies have shown that though a majority of Kenyans have access to mobile phones, low earnings prevent them from accessing quality healthcare.

This calls for innovative approaches to boost access to quality, affordable healthcare using technology. The World Health Organisation (WHO) Global Strategy on Digital Health calls on nations to use innovative technologies to empower patients and achieve universal health.

Kenya has made strides in digital health adoption as evidenced by increased uptake of telemedicine and other novel health solutions. Think of medical apps facilitating online doctor-patient consultations, home delivery of medicines, and tracking of key health metrics like diet and exercise.

Apart from convenience, transparency and affordability, technology in health disseminates valuable information on health and disease prevention. With WHO estimating a shortage of 4.5 million doctors and nurses globally, there is a strong case for shifting from a reactive to preventive approach in managing the growing disease burden.

Covid-19 has amplified the value of health and wellbeing especially the need for a healthy lifestyle. In a virtual environment, people require the tools to do that. This is where digital health comes in to connect consumers, patients, health care providers and health professionals.

Also known as e-health, digital health details information and communication technologies used to prevent and manage disease as well as promote wellness.

Kenya has embraced virtual health via the National E-health Strategy 2016-2030 as a vehicle for attaining the highest standards of health. However, the successful rollout of the e-health strategy requires collaboration between the State, the private sector and other stakeholders.

The private sector brings in innovation, capital and skills required to build scale for the digital or e-health agenda. At UAP Old Mutual, we observed a trend where more Kenyans are looking for the right tools to manage their health and wellbeing.

They also want the right information to make informed decisions about their health.

Based on these insights, our customers can get their medical prescription delivered to their doorstep. This is through our pact with Livia Dawa, who provide drug delivery services to all our medical clients.

Our customers enjoy up to 40 per cent savings on their prescription costs. Mental health and wellness are key today.

As UAP Old Mutual, we now offer tele-counselling services, where we connect our customers with counselling experts for virtual counselling sessions.

Digital health equips medical care providers and insurers with better insights into their clients’ health-seeking behaviour and innovative products that meet specific needs.

For medical underwriters, it is encouraging more people to sign up for health insurance online. Digitisation also improves service efficiency and creates a delightful customer experience.

It reduces fraud and other malpractices that magnify risks and costs in medical insurance.

A major challenge is access to a smartphone, Internet and misinformation. There is also a need to invest in physical infrastructure since patients visit health facilities for treatment. 

-The writer is the Managing Director at UAP Old Mutual, Insurance Business Kenya

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