Health Digitalisation
Health Digitalisation

A Crucial Step Towards National Health Digitalisation

By Lawal Dahiru Mamman

“Digital technology has made many services and products across different sectors safe, fast and seamless. There is no reason why, with the right policies, this should not happen in health systems as well. There has been accelerated development and use of digital health technologies. There are opportunities to further nurture their use to improve public health and disease surveillance, clinical care, research and innovation.”

Above is an excerpt of a research paper titled “How to build a better health system” written by Francesca Colombo, Head, Health Division, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and Helen E. Clark, Prime Minister of New Zealand (1999-2008), The Helen Clark Foundation. This was published on October 2, 2020 by the World Economic Forum.

It was written after the COVID-19 pandemic exposed weakness of health sectors across world. Thus, in an era of rapid technological advancements where healthcare sector is undergoing a significant transformation, it is only wise for every nation to embrace medical digitalisation which is a key driver of the transformation.

It involves adoption of digital technologies to enhance healthcare delivery, improve patient outcomes and streamline administrative processes.

In what was his first ministerial press briefing which I was fortunate to be in attendance, the Coordinating Minister of Health and Social Welfare, Prof. Muhammad Ali Pate, and Minister of State for Health and Social Welfare, Dr. Tunji Alausa, reeled out how they hope to take healthcare in Nigeria to the promised land.

Before delving into affair of the day, the Prof. Pate encouraged all present to standup up and do some stretches. That was perhaps to physically and mentally prepare stakeholders for the work required to achieve goals that were set on the faithful day.

It was obvious the minister and his team recognise the colossal potential of digital health solutions because on that day, they promised to “digitalise health sector and institute electronic medical records (EMRs).

Going by that, medical digitisation will revolutionise patient experiences in coming days especially through EMRs. Healthcare providers would access comprehensive patient information within short period of time for quicker diagnoses, treatment plans, and allows for coordination among different healthcare facilities. Waiting on doctors for hours will then become a thing of the past for patients, and undergoing repeated test unnecessarily will not longer be a thorn in healthcare providers’ neck.

Digitalising Nigeria’s healthcare will also boost security measures since records will be stored electronically, making them less susceptible to loss, damage, or unauthorised access. Patient-doctor confidentiality will be more pronounced as records gradually disappear from shelves where they are accessible to all.

Again, accurate and timely data play a pivotal role in improving health outcomes. With digitisation, healthcare professionals can analyse trends, identify disease patterns, and track treatment effectiveness. Decision making becomes easier for better patient management and disease prevention.

Healthcare providers face administrative burdens due to paperwork, manual record-keeping, and redundant processes. Digital health platforms streamline workflows by automating tasks such as appointment scheduling, prescription management, and billing. This efficiency allows doctors and nurses to focus more on patient care and less on administrative tasks.

In hospitals, health workers have to record a wide range of information in the patient’s records and this leads to increased workload that may compromise accurate record-keeping. This becomes history with digitalisation.

A well-organised digital health system provides policymakers with accurate and up-to-date information. This data-driven approach enables evidence-based policy formulation, resource allocation and strategic planning.

In view of the advantages that come with digitalisation, the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare recently took a significant step in this direction by setting up a 20-member digital health committee tasked with the implementation of Nigeria’s Digital Health Initiative (NHDI).

The National Health Digitalisation Committee (NHDC) is made up of big personalities in the health and technology ecosystem, led by the Minister of State for Health and Social Welfare, Dr. Tunji Alausa and Senior Innovation and Digitization Advisor, Africa Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr Edem Adzogenu.

The Special Adviser to the President on Technology and Digital Economy and Co-Founder at Ceviant, Idris lubankudi; and the Director, Health Planning Research and Statistics, Federal Ministry of Health, Dr Chris Osa Isokpunwu are also in the committee.

The committee “will provide health regulatory bodies with insights on digital health technologies (DHTs) to enhance understanding of the benefits, risks, and clinical outcomes associated with their use.”

The committee is also mandated to tackle the prevailing fragmentation within Nigeria’s health sector, standardise Electronic Medical Record (EMR) solutions under one national EMR platform and emphasise data driven governance, repository security, regulation, and standardisation.

Commenting on the issue after the inauguration of the committee, Chief Executive Officer of Avon HMO, Adesimbo Ukiri, said healthcare is data intensive and lends itself well to data analytics and artificial intelligence, so, importance of digitalisation can not be overstated.

She stressed that data and digitalisation will accelerate the country’s bid to achieve universal health coverage (UHC) – that all people have access to the full range of quality health services they need, when and where they need them, without financial hardship.

“For it to be effective, its usage must be strategic and judicious. There are very important elements of that implementation that we must all bear in mind,” she emphasised.

The digital committee represents a crucial step towards leveraging technology to address longstanding challenges in the health sector.

Pate’s commitment to medical digitisation is therefore nothing short of commendable. As the digital health initiative unfolds, collaboration between public and private sectors will be essential.

Harnessing the power of technology, Nigeria can achieve better health outcomes, enhance patient experiences, and build a resilient healthcare system for all its citizens including at grassroots level.

Nigeria is big, the task ahead of the committee is also enormous, their job is cut out for them. The determination of Professor Pate and the pedigree of the committee members should however be enough to make them succeed.