Global healthcare is arguably hindered by stark inequalities, underfunded state provision, a two-tier approach that supports the privileged at the expense of those most in need and a glacial pace of innovation. The status quo just isn’t working. We need to harness rapidly advancing technology to bring healthcare into the 21stcentury and work together to democratise access to services for all.
The explosion of digital healthcare solutions offers the potential for just such a revolution but will need global collaboration, innovation from both the public and private sector, fresh thinking from governments and wider recognition that what we currently have is broken. We need all parties to set and share standards and data so that we can offer democratised access to the most innovative solutions at scale and in a cost-effective manner that addresses both local and global problems. Indeed, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has openly stated that exploring potential global solutions and shared services should be considered as part of national health strategies. Domestic and international policymakers are only in the earliest stages of putting in place the principles, policies, and frameworks that would provide the supporting structure for such needed change. This was clearly evidenced by the COVID-19 pandemic which highlighted how key collaboration on health issues really is as well as the power of data and digital tools and the need for targeted digital health strategies.
Favourable changes to data privacy and cyber security protocols are assisting the health tech market’s development and growth. Increasing government investment in areas such as remote
patient monitoring, is providing inexpensive and accessible healthcare services to communities where there is a need and driving market expansion. For example, a world-first programme to unify
digital health standards across multiple countries, has already been launched by the Nordic Interoperability Project (NIP). Meanwhile, the European Health Data Space (EHDS) framework will
potentially harness the health data of nearly 450 million people, facilitating cross-border care among EU member states.
In Africa, the M-TIBA is the leading health financing technology platform for consumers, insurers, healthcare providers, and governments. It is a proven health system integrator that is revolutionising the management of large-scale health schemes and supporting the drive for universal health coverage in Africa.
Importantly, it is directed at scaling up towards new international markets rather than national healthcare systems or national populations. Digital health applications are tried out in one country
and scaled up in others. For example, PharmAccess’ products and platforms designed by CarePay are being scaled up in Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda and Ghana.
CarePay was established with the support of PharmAccess in Kenya to administer healthcare payments. This allows funders of healthcare – including governments and insurance companies – to
pay into a patient’s mobile wallet, which the patient can then only use to pay for healthcare. Although the profit margins per person are very little, the scalability of the model makes it profitable
because of the size of the addressable market.
There is also an alternative development path. Many countries with lower GDP, unburdened by legacy platforms, can leapfrog the barriers of ageing technologies and skip ahead. They can learn
from countries such as England and Estonia that have matured through decades of stepwise improvement and directly implement these modern solutions. However, there is only so much
expansion the private sector can provide and to truly build out a country’s infrastructure. Government mandates are required.
No health system, public or private, currently possesses a complete set of digital transformation tools. We must abandon the patrician approach to healthcare. Technology giants have the gadgets,
but they lack deep healthcare industry knowledge. We need to leap beyond the traditional healthcare ecosystem to include disruptive startups, technology hyperscalers, and private
equity/venture capital firms. This way we open doors to cost savings, operational efficiencies, improved care access and affordability, strengthened data security and cyber controls. It is this intra
and cross industry alliance that will provide the clinical innovation to improve population health outcomes globally.
We have the opportunity to radically alter the path to wellness globally for the better. We know what we have is not working and millions around the world suffer ill health and poor treatment because of a lack of resources and geographical challenges. If we don’t seize the chance to implement the digital healthcare revolution by looking beyond our own borders, we will be failing the next generation and leaving them a legacy of a failed system that we did nothing to fix.
Author: Dr Andrews