A two-day seminar on improving healthcare in Kenya through information and communication technology, organized by Kenya ICT Federation and AITEC, brought together 70 local and international participants from the medical professions in the public and private sectors, as well as medical insurance companies, and IT and communication professionals. The international participants were drawn from Tanzania, Uganda South Africa and Pakistan.

It was aimed at charting a way forward towards providing faster, affordable and reliable healthcare services by embracing ICT, especially in the rural areas where medical services are so lacking. In order to provide quality healthcare, the delegates came up with recommendations that could bring major changes in the health and insurance sectors for the benefit of the patients.

Among the recommendations is to have a centralized health care data system for all health problems covering the whole country. With information centralized, automated and networked via computers it was noted that data accuracy will be vastly improved and retrieval speed tremendously enhanced.

Health service providers will also be able to find new markets by increasing range of services they offer based on effective analysis of patient needs, both present and future. This allows for growth without requiring relocation.

A plan was proposed to introduce identification and verification smart cards to be used in all health centres. A smart card contains an electronic chip that can store data. It will enable the patients to have all his/her medical records in one document. It is aimed at replacing the current paper forms used by various hospitals and insurance firms.

The plan, which is in the early stages of implementation, will cater initially for National Hospital Insurance Fund members who are estimated to be more than 2 million. All stakeholders, the government and NHIF through its membership will be required to fund the project with the help of the private sector.

The smart cards will also replace the insurance claim forms which currently differ from one company to another. This has largely been blamed for delay in rendering services to the payers. It will help bring efficiency in claim management, identifications and verification process. The system may also reduce fraud and abuse of claims by the players and the payers. The system will make it possible for quick access to medical records and will also support the government’s drive to streamline operations to make them more cost effective. This is especially crucial in healthcare services.

Currently patients and medical staff have administrative difficulties when a patient is transferred from one hospital to another or from one doctor to another as there is no harmonization in the referral cards. It was also noted that it is difficult to get the right physician for the right patient at the right time. But with all the medical background of a patient stored in one place it will be easy to determine the right physician.

However there is an urgent need to codify services procedures and drugs before this is achieved. A legal framework should also be put in place to cater for the privacy of patients data and also allow doctors to use electronic data in case of court cases.

Elizabeth Ochieng of Nairobi Hospital suggested that a hybrid of both paper and smart card systems may still be used. Also on the list of recommendations was having standardized fees charged by doctors and healthcare providers. In addition the Government needs to fully computerize all its hospitals to make the smart card initiative a success.

The delegates, led by the Kenya Medical Association, also highlighted the need to have a national telemedicine centre. This project requires a minimum of US$600 million to kick off. The group intends to lobby the government and donors to provide these funds. The centre will help doctors and medical students to exchange information and continue learning regardless of the remoteness of an area without the need to move from their stations. A central body to regulate and formulate a standardized Continuous Medical Education system should be formed.

Providing eHealth services o the far-flung areas also raised the issue of licensing Very Small Aperture satellites (VSATs). The government was urged consider offering a subsidized rates to allow the maximum and fast implementation of telemedicine solutions. This proposal needed to urgently be looked into by the government in the context of an ICT policy that can be linked to the national ICT Federation of the Private Sector Alliance.

Private Institutions were asked to integrate their systems with others by overcoming their fear of hackers and loosing the confidentiality of patient data. It was also noted that there is a need to build telecentres country wide and socialize people at the community level to appreciate the use of ICTs.