Patient Access

Improving Access to Quality Care with Smart Telemedicine Program

Female nurse working at computer taking notes

Healthcare can be difficult to access in Kenya. The majority of the population live in rural areas and are affected by a lack of medical professionals. As of 2021, some 72% of the country’s population did not live in urban areas, making their journeys to receive medical care extremely costly and time-consuming.  Because most healthcare specialists and sub-specialists live and work in urban centers, access to quality healthcare services has been a growing challenge for people within these populations.

In addition to most medical professionals centralized in specific areas, there are also very limited in quantity. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there should be 23 health professionals per 10,000 people in a country. Statistics from 2020 show that Kenya had only 63,580 registered nurses for the nation’s 55.6 million people,which is far less than recommended by WHO. Worse, the number of registered physicians was reported as 12,792, a  figure not nearly sufficient to provide adequate care to its population.

The inaccessibility of specialty care in rural areas often results in problems with overcrowding in the few medical facilities they have, and a higher mortality rate. It's a complex problem, to say the least.

Improving Access to Healthcare in Rural Areas

To improve access to healthcare in rural Kenya, Gertrude's Hospital Foundation launched the Daktari Smart telemedicine program. The goal of this telehealth program was to provide pediatric patients with quality care comparable to the services they would receive in person via telemedicine technology.

Gertrude's Children's Hospital used technology to reach more patients to increase access to quality medical care. This cutting-edge technology  bridged the distance between doctors and patients. Patients who previously were unable to see doctors regularly were now able to receive continuous care.

With the use of integrated primary care devices, the specialists could provide care to children who live in four of the country’s rural counties. By using a telehealth program, Level IV and V hospitals will provide access to various specialists more easily, optimizing the capacity and reach of healthcare delivery systems.

Benefits This System Provided

This was a critical step forward for those who did not have the ability to travel for care, such as those who suffer from chronic and congenital conditions. The list of benefits that this system provided is long; here are a few highlights:

  1. Direct connection to specialists.By using a software platform with integrated medical devices, workers at local partner care facilities could connect with Gertrude's Children's Hospital’s specialists through the Daktari Smart program. On-site clinic staff assisted patients with the technology to connect them directly to specialists, who were then able to provide an evaluation of the patient's symptoms in real-time and avoid any misconceptions.
  2. Enhanced community health through education. The hospital was able to connect with local care providers through technology to provide more detailed teaching about common conditions, and help mothers learn nutritional best practices for their infant children. It also trained a plethora of community health volunteers who are key in promoting health education throughout the area, detecting any troubling situations and referring patients to relevant facilities.
  3. The ability to operate with low bandwidth. The telehealth solution requires a relatively small amount of bandwidth. The general range is between 2 Mbps and 8 Mbps, making it extremely reliable in rural and underserved areas generally without fiber connectivity. Even with low bandwidth connections, the platform can gather data and information from any of the connected medical devices while serving as a communication platform.

Results of the Daktari Smart Program

Gertrude's Children's Hospital has been successful in expanding services from two counties to four in Kenya. This change has enabled healthcare providers to ramp up their monthly patient volume to more than 100 patients, thanks to the Daktari Smart program.

Patients no longer need to tackle the obstacles of traveling long distances to receive specialist care. Given the fact that many of them had to travel around 400 kilometers to visit  a hospital in Nairobi, many would put off going to their appointments. With this program, however, patients are now able to easily access specialists from their local clinics, vastly reducing the time necessary for diagnosis and treatment of their conditions.

What Does the Future Hold?

The plans going forward are to provide more accurate and timely diagnoses for treatment. This will greatly increase the time in which patients are able to get care, while significantly improving community health.

Currently, four counties are being served, and the plan is to expand to six counties, with the continuous goal to further increase access to care. Here are some of their achievements so far:

  • Free specialist care and treatment for more than 32,400 children, resulting in greatly reduced time to diagnose and treat illnesses and conditions.
  • Patients save time and money on quality medical care.
  • Increased capacity of these rural health facilities by more than 300 health workers.
  • Training for more than 360 health volunteers throughout local communities.

Implementing this type of effective care plan will help overcome many of the barriers to healthcare that residents in rural and underserved areas face. Global health issues can sometimes seem like daunting problems to solve, but oftentimes, it just takes a little innovation, creative thinking, and people willing to set the plan in motion.

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