06 November 2019
Getting access to specialised medical treatment has been challenging for the 3.5 million people living on Kenya’s sparsely populated 1,420km of coastline.
Although treatment was available, it was mainly at referral hospitals based in the country’s second largest city of Mombasa.
This meant that people in need of urgent treatment could end up travelling as long as a day in each direction.
If the distance wasn’t enough of a problem, travelling also costs money and in many cases the bus fare is seven times the person’s daily wage.
“Travel costs were often prohibitive for patients,” points out Hemed Twahir, medical director at Aga Khan Hospital Mombasa. “For example, patients coming from Voi to Mombasa spend around Sh700 on bus fares, which is a major cost at a time when most of the population struggle to buy even basic medication, and often cannot afford to visit the hospital for follow up appointments.”
However, the hospital knew something had to be done to overcome these prohibitive distances – telemedicine.
The hospital’s initiative came at a time when Kenya was facing a shortage of healthcare specialists especially in dermatology (skin diseases and complications) and Otolaryngology (Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) diseases.
“As healthcare providers strive to make specialists more accessible to patients in an affordable way through telemedicine, Liquid Telecom Kenya has been able to offer both the high-speed internet connectivity and software to enable uninterrupted two-way audio-visual and data communication in a delivery that aligns exactly with our vision of driving digital transformation across Africa,” said Adil Youssefi, chief executive of Liquid Telecom Kenya.
Aga Khan Hospital Mombasa decided it was time to provide telemedicine to its local clinics.
The challenge for the hospital was, of course, connectivity.
It needed a 99.99% uptime guaranteed connection from Aga Khan Hospital Mombasa to its seven outreach clinics along the Kenyan coast.
Furthermore, it needed to install a fibre network connection of sufficient quality to support telemedicine services.
Pan-African specialist Liquid Telecom was chosen to make it a reality.
It established a high-speed connection of 24Mbps linking the main hospital and six of its outreach clinics.
This was complemented by the Office 365 suite which offers Skype for Business, facilitating patient-doctor video appointments.
Suddenly, the less well-off were thrown – quite literally – a lifeline.
If you visit Aga Khan Hospital Mombasa today, you will see that it now offers telemedicine services from its main hospital to its Ukunda, Kilifi and Voi clinics, which serve up to 200 patients a day.
Delivered via Liquid Telecom’s high-speed network.
The three clinics are offering specialist services in gynaecology, ear, nose and throat, and dermatology.
“When a patient at a clinic requires specialised attention, the clinicians logs a video request with the specialist and run a video conference with both specialist and patient,” says James Siku, Head of ICT at Aga Khan Hospital Mombasa. “They also use our newly installed digital medical equipment to make a diagnosis, with everything about the patient recorded in the hospital records system.”
However, the progress doesn’t stop there.
The hospital says plans are underway to further launch the service to its outreach clinics in Nyali, Changamwe, Mtwapa, and Bamburi Mwisho.
They are set to roll out the video consultancy and diagnostic services.
“Thanks to our new digital equipment and internet, specialists can now see in real-time, say, the condition of the skin, and other vital readings, then offer consultancy and diagnostics online,” says Sultana Shermana, interim chief executive officer of Aga Khan Hospital Mombasa.
The hospital has also invested in a state-of-the-art cardiac catheterisation laboratory that is first in the coast province for diagnosis of heart conditions and a 1.5 Tesla Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) machine and runs a digital HMIS - managing inpatient and outpatient records, lab results and diagnosis – that is now accessible across all of its clinics and main hospitals.
Furthermore, it’s not just patients who will benefit from this new telemedicine set-up.
The hospital has already introduced e-learning courses covering Continuous Medical Education (CME) and Continuous Nursing Education (CNE) between the main hospital and its outreach clinics.
In addition, the hospital now runs knowledge exchange forums using video conferencing with public hospitals, such as Rabai, Tsangansini and Mariakani hospitals.
The purpose is to exchange knowledge and discuss medical case management – in a collaborative process that drives best-practice treatment plans.
The forums also help clinicians earn credits for their professional qualifications and credit transfers under Ministry of Health guidelines.