It’s fairly accurate to say that 2015 was the year of telehealth in Kenya.
But when did telehealth really start? For some context, in 1940s Pennsylvania, radiology images were sent 24 miles between two townships via telephone line in the world’s first example of an electronic medical record transfer. A Canadian doctor built upon this technology in the 1950s, constructing a teleradiology system that was used in and around Montreal. As these practices became more widespread, so did motion pictures, and with the advent of modern film technology came serious plans for video medicine.
The first people to use video communication for medical purposes were clinicians at the University of Nebraska. In 1959, the university established a two-way television setup to transmit information to medical students across campus, and five years later linked with a state hospital to perform video consultations.
By 2016, when SASAdoctor was launched, the concept of telehealth was fairly unrestricted, paid for and covered, and continues expanding to a wider Kenyan audience.
Kenya launched it’s first national telemedicine initiative in 2015 with the aim of improving access to better healthcare for the rural poor and the marginalised. The telemedicine programme was to provide a platform that would enable patients and healthcare providers in rural areas to interact with health experts at Kenya’s main referral hospital, Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH), using video conferencing.
The initiative was a partnership of Kenya’s Ministry of Health and the German company, Merck Group. The telemedicine initiative was to link the Kenyatta National Hospital to the Machakos Level Five Hospital located in the eastern region of Kenya.
Since 2015, the field of telemedicine in Kenya has changed drastically from it’s inception. A number of hospitals are now using SASAdoctor to reach patients in remote locations. This has been driven by rapid changes in technology over the last few years.
Today the telemedicine field is changing faster than ever before. As technology advances at exponential levels, so does the widespread affordability and accessibility to basic telemedicine tools. For example, not only do we now have the technology for live video telemedicine, but much of Kenyan population has experience using online videochat apps (like Skype, Facebook or WhatsApp), and access to a computer or mobile device to use them.
This expectation for more convenient care, combined with the unavailability of many overburdened medical professionals (especially primary care providers) have led to the rise of telemedicine companies in Kenya like SASAdoctor, Vezeeta and MyDAWA. SASAdoctor, for instance, offers patients 24/7 access to medical care with an on-call doctor contracted by that company. Others like Vezeeta offer hospitals and larger health centers access to extra clinical staff and specialists, for outsourcing of special cases (common model among teleradiology companies). Still others provide a telemedicine platform for physicians to use to offer virtual visits with their own patients. Increasingly, telemedicine is becoming a way to give medical practices an edge in a competitive healthcare landscape where it’s difficult to stay independent or maintain a healthy bottom line.
Telehealth has been shown to overcome barriers to health services caused by distance between patient and provider, access to reliable transportation, fragmentation of care due to gaps in time between appointments, and lack of available providers.
Telemedicine increases access to care
Distance and travel time between patients and care providers can limit access to care. Fortunately, telemedicine can overcome geographic barriers to healthcare, especially for specialized providers. Telemedicine can be particularly beneficial for patients in medically underserved communities and those in rural geographical locations where clinician shortages exist.
Telemedicine improves quality of care delivery
Telemedicine can improve the quality of care for patients with both medical and mental health conditions. A recent study showed that with telemedicine, patients had:
38% fewer hospital admissions
31% fewer hospital re-admissions
63% more likely to spend fewer days in the hospital
Telemedicine reduces healthcare costs
Telemedicine can increase efficiency of care delivery, reduce expenses of caring for patients or transporting to another location, and can even keep patients out of the hospital. In fact, one study showed that telemedicine care had 19 percent savings over inpatient care cost.
Telemedicine enhances traditional face-to-face medicine
A strong doctor-patient relationship is the foundation for high-quality patient care and reducing health care costs. Telemedicine should support, not replace, traditional care delivery. With telemedicine care providers can continue to care for patients in-person care while still providing the flexibility and convenience of seeing patients remotely for follow up visits, check-ups, and education when appropriate or necessary.
Telemedicine improves patient engagement and satisfaction
Telemedicine makes it easier and more convenient for patients to stay healthy and engaged in their health care. Patients love the convenience, flexibility and real-time care with their providers.
Telemedicine improves provider satisfaction
Being a healthcare provider today can be challenging and stressful at times. Telemedicine can improve job satisfaction by making it easier to meet with patients. Providers can use telemedicine to make it easier to balance their work and family life. To experience the benefits of telemedicine, download the SASAdoctor APP today.