February 2016 BusinessDaily; Medical supplies agency has revamped its e-mobile application meant to ease service provision to local hospitals, in a fresh attempt to woo counties to adopt the platform.
The Kenya Medical Supplies Authority (Kemsa) had launched an earlier version in 2013, but its roll-out stalled following the devolution of healthcare services to the counties.
The application was developed through a public private partnership supported by the Ministry of Health, Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Foundation, mHealth Kenya and Fintech Group.
A remote dispensary can now order for drugs without having to go through paperwork and the red tape so that the medicine can be sought from Kemsa.
The platform not only linked hospitals to the medical warehousing systems but also allowed the public to report any irregularities and complaints.
Dr Cathy Mwangi, the mHealth Kenya CEO and principal investigator, says the system stalled soon after being launched and rolled out in about three counties.
“Initially it had been developed targeting national management but with the Ministry of Health as devolved, roll out hit a snag in 2014 as we had to interact with the counties afresh which was a bit challenging,” she admits.
Some of the counties had other bigger problems like insecurity and food crises, which they needed to address before they could begin improving healthcare systems.
Through a lot awareness campaigns and training, Dr Mwangi says, counties have slowly embraced the paperless system of procuring drugs and medical devices to their local facilities. Today mHealth is preparing to conduct training simultaneously in counties planning to implement the system before June.
“This is one of the applications I take pride in because of the impact it has in healthcare provision.
“I got involved with it from the onset, developing system requirements, and designs with the Ministry of Health and CDC, having it launched in 2013 and seeing a continued implementation in counties from last year,” she says adding that they are about to evaluate the real impact of the system across the health value chain.
Dr Mwangi does not describe herself as a techie, even though her work has seen her develop applications to improve health systems both locally and in the US over the past 20 years.
“My first degree was in education, but when I went to the US I got involved with health because it was better paying. I started working with hospitals and slowly became a certified medical coder,” she recalled.
She began working with the IT teams to improve the hospital systems at the University of Maryland Hospital in Baltimore and her career later progressed to health related project management.
When she came back to Kenya in 2009 she was committed to creating systems that would help hospitals become more efficient and improve service delivery.However, working with independent hospitals was not as easy due to slow pace of implementing the new systems.
But when an opportunity for her to work as the CDC Foundation country manager came up, she did not turn back.
“mHealth began as an incubation of the CDC Foundation because they needed a legal entity to enable it implement projects within the country.
“We started doing projects that addressed gaps within the sector that had been identified by both the ministry and donor partners,” she explained.
Even though most of the work mHealth does is still donor funded, Dr Mwangi says they have embarked on a strategic plan that will see them become self-sustainable in the next two years.
“We want to develop and grow our for profit wing which will be able to develop systems for hospitals and other entities within the sector to address their individual needs as well as have a separate wing for donor funded projects,” she said.
To enable them become self-reliant, they have had to make several changes, for instance, unlike two years ago when they outsourced most of the technical work, they have hired in-house techies to develop new apps as well as manage and update existing ones.
“With outsourcing, there was a challenge with budgets, especially if the projects changed scope midway which would mean an extra cost of the tech companies we had contracted and sometimes the budget just wasn’t there,” she says.
A lot of the systems they develop are designed for remote areas where there are mobile networks reception, but without Internet access. They also develop apps for smartphones.
Aside from the Kemsa e-mobile application, mHealth has also been involved in the development of the Text for Life app for the Kenya National Blood Transfusion Service (KNBTS).
The blood donor system assists the KNBTS in recruiting blood donors and communicating with them on where to make donations and letting them know their blood has been tested, used and where they need to go pick up results.
“We have helped KNBTS create a database of donors to reach out to when there is need. “During the Westgate attack where we were able to send out mass messages for blood donations,” she says.
Dr Mwangi says the system, which also focuses on creating repeat donors, has helped change the lifestyles of many people because they try to live healthy with the reminder of being able to donate blood after every three months.
Dr Mwangi is a firm believer that there is still room for innovations within healthcare sector as patients become more informed and participate in their management unlike before when they did not have a say.
“Technology is being used to follow up on patients that would have otherwise been lost for care, today we can track a pregnant mother and be able to see her deliver safely in hospital. “We need to make it possible for a patient to go to hospital with their medical records and give that access to a different doctor so that they do not have to go through diagnostic treatments every time they go for a second opinion,” she says.