How digital technology could help to cut your company’s health costs

In recent years, technical innovations have been bringing about some really positive changes in Kenya’s healthcare sector. While many of these developments are primarily aimed at improving access to healthcare for the urban poor and people living in remote rural areas, some have real potential to reduce the health insurance premiums that companies pay to protect their employees.

Here we’ll take a look at some of the inspirational technology that is already changing lives in Kenya, the trends shaping the direction of this exciting field, and ways your company could benefit. 

Reaching further with m-health

According to the latest figures from the Communications Authority, around 90% of Kenyans now have a mobile phone. The rapid adoption of mobile telephony has fuelled a surge of mobile phone-based healthcare, or m-health solutions.

Health-focused smartphone apps are bringing a wide range of benefits to people across Kenya.

Health-focused smartphone apps are bringing a wide range of benefits to people across Kenya. These include improved access to diagnosis of conditions such as malaria, cervical cancer, diabetes and hypertension. They are also providing health practitioners with an overview of the HIV and AIDS situation across the country, making it easier to allocate resources. In addition, people now have instant access to health information and details of local medical service providers. And currently in development, there is assistance for girls affected by female genital mutilation (FGM), spearheaded by a group of students from Kisumu Girls’ High School.

Elsewhere, another mobile-based service, mHMtaani (mobile health for our communities), based on m-health platform CommCare, helps community health workers monitor the progress of pregnant women. Crucially it enables them to remind mothers-to-be of their delivery date, improving the likelihood that they will get to hospital in time for the birth. This could make a major difference in a country where more than five women in every 1,000 still die in childbirth. mHMtaani also helps health workers track the wellbeing of orphans and vulnerable children.

There has also been great success with more basic mobile-enabled solutions. For example, studies have shown that receiving regular text message reminders significantly improved Kenyan HIV patients’ adherence to their antiretroviral medication, resulting in better rates of viral suppression. In Kenya in particular, a lot of the m-health developments so far have been in the area of HIV management. It’s likely, however, that we will see a shift towards tackling non-communicable diseases. 

Telemedicine – access to expertise from anywhere

Computer-based telemedicine is helping to pick up and manage serious conditions among people in rural areas of Kenya. For example, in 2015, pharmaceutical giant Merck partnered with the Ministry of Health to launch an online cancer diagnosis and consultation service. Patients in remote parts of the country can now have virtual appointments with cancer specialists at Kenyatta National Hospital and Machakos Hospital via a video link to their local clinic.

Aimed at a more privileged demographic, there are now virtual doctor services available that enable people to have a video consultation on their phone for less than the cost of an appointment at a private hospital.

Tracking individual fitness

Globally, wearable health devices are a huge growth area. People keen to improve their levels of fitness have enthusiastically embraced activity tracking devices such as Fitbits and Jawbones. While the fitness tracker trend hasn’t yet had much impact in Kenya due to the cost of the devices, a recent article published in Scientific Research suggested that wearable health sensors could be used to improve health in areas of extreme poverty.

Easier ways to pay for healthcare

Mobile money transfer system M-Pesa has made accessing funds and paying for treatment easier. In 2015 Safaricom launched a health payment service called M-Tiba, in conjunction with PharmAccess Foundation and CarePay. This adds secure dedicated ‘health wallets’ to M-Pesa, where people can keep money aside for their own and their dependants’ health needs. Donor organisations, which are responsible for around 30% of all health payments in Kenya, can also use the service and track how beneficiaries use the funds donated.

Technology in operation

Other areas of technology are showing great potential to improve the operational side of healthcare provision in Kenya. For example, Kenyan hospitals, such as the International Center for Minimal Access Surgery (ICMAS), are now beginning to offer robotically assisted surgery, sometimes with the aid of 3D imaging. This makes operations less invasive, helping to improve patient outcomes and recovery times.

Kenyan hospitals, such as the International Center for Minimal Access Surgery (ICMAS), are now beginning to offer robotically assisted surgery, sometimes with the aid of 3D imaging.

Improving clerical efficiency and learning

Most health records in Kenya are still kept locally in paper form, so this could make a huge difference to the overall efficiency of the country’s health services. At the moment, many care providers routinely create new paper files for patients they haven’t seen recently, rather than going to the trouble of retrieving their existing ones. This exposes them and the patient to a whole range of risks.

Nairobi software company Savannah Informatics has developed a tool that is making it possible for digital patient records to be shared between health facilities. And the digitisation of patient records has already begun. The virtual doctor service, AfriDOKTA, is offering patients the option of having all their paper-based medical records converted to electronic versions. If cloud and open-source technology make the conversion to fully digital patient records more financially viable, this would drive efficiency as well as supporting services like telemedicine, making high quality care more accessible for all.

Digitised records will also facilitate big data analysis and machine learning, to pick up important health trends, support diagnosis and care and even help to prevent diseases from developing. The ability for different organisations to share anonymised health data, even internationally, then apply artificial intelligence to analysing it could have a huge impact on our understanding and prevention of key health concerns.

Many local providers have now switched to smart cards for their members when accessing treatment at the various provider centres.

How healthcare tech can help your business

As these and other technological innovations are adopted by Kenyan healthcare services, the improvements they yield will present various opportunities for businesses to cut the cost of their health insurance. Here are three prominent ways in which new tech can help you to streamline your employee healthcare programme.

Save time with telemedicine – it’s now possible for your employees to have a medical consultation for a non-emergency health concern without leaving the workplace, via a smartphone, tablet or computer. As well as saving on direct health costs, this could help to reduce absenteeism and maximise productivity. Telemedicine provider AfriDOKTA allows companies in Kenya to sign up for an account for minimal upfront fees. Its systems even integrate with insurers’ databases to verify insurance benefit coverage before providing a service.

It’s now possible for your employees to have a medical consultation for a non-emergency health concern without leaving the workplace, via a smartphone, tablet or computer.

Eradicate inefficiency with digitised data – digitised systems are gradually helping Kenyan health providers improve efficiency in all areas, from patient care to drugs management. This will help to keep their costs under control, which should see billable amounts beginning to drop. Using healthcare providers that have switched to digital record keeping could safeguard your employees’ welfare, helping to ensure they receive the right care, taking into account their medical history, leading to further cost savings. And the intelligence gleaned from the aggregated analysis of digital health data will help businesses to educate employees in disease prevention, thus reducing the need for medical care.

Keep track with wearables – wearable health tracking technology offers huge potential to improve health services and reduce costs. A fascinating study by healthcare analytics company Springbuk Inc found that employees at a healthcare company who wore a fitness monitoring device as part of a wellness programme accrued lower healthcare costs than their colleagues. The improvement was most marked for individuals who were assessed as less active at the start of the programme: their total health costs went down by an average of 59%.

Build new tech into your staff welfare strategy

While there is always an initial investment required, digital technology can bring about significant improvements in the quality of healthcare your workers receive and, through their efficiency, help to slash costs in the long term. Next time you speak to your insurance advisor, ask them what they can recommend to help you harness these developments within your company and start realising the benefits of high-tech healthcare.