E-health: steady progress in Europe, Africa lacks policy
By Issa Sikiti da Silva, in Dakar, Senegal
The E-health Revolution - easier said than done, a 2011-2012 research paper authored by Dr Rhonda Jolly, shows that the European Union has done a steady progress on e-health, with Denmark being described as a ‘shining example’.
The report said by 2007 countries across the EU had begun the process of implementing national e-health infrastructure to connect all actors in the health sector. However, the report noted that most e-health projects in Europe have so far been restricted to the level of primary healthcare.
In the United States, where the report says a 2006 survey revealed that 80% of primary care medical practitioners identified lack of government financial support for IT applications as a major barrier preventing them from adopting e health, there was no national e-health plan in place until 2009.
“It can be argued that privacy concerns have been central to delays in the uptake of e-health in the United States. This may be because comprehensive privacy laws that exist elsewhere are not a feature of United States’ society,” Dr Jolly’s report, funded by the Australian Parliament, said, adding that Uncle Sam has since learned from its earlier e-health mistakes.
On Australia, Dr Jolly said: “Apart from potentially alleviating some of the problems of rural Australians in accessing medical services, e-health appeared to have a further capability to ease overall pressures within the health system.”
In digital divide-infested and resources-scarce Africa, where e-health has been slow to take off, many countries lack formal e-health policies and have been doing it because e-health has become a worldwide trend, as one IT analyst put it.
“E-health is complex and is like an unknown destination. You need appropriate policies in place to be able to get there. That’s why all e-health initiatives must be laid on solid foundations, which include effective national e-health policies and legal and ethical frameworks,” freelance IT engineer Demba Diop told Biztechafrica this week in central Dakar.
“Laws such as protecting electronic health records (EHR), allowing or prohibiting Internet pharmacy operations from other countries, among others, must be spelt out in the very beginning if a country is to move forward in e-health,” he said.
“And most countries in Africa have none of these,” Diop said.
“What I have noticed is that technology producers have been putting pressure on governments in developing countries to implement e-health without proper research and frameworks.
“It won’t work,” he said.
He added: “Funding must also be made available to support skills training of healthcare professionals on e-health and encourage tech-savvy young people into embracing the health profession, which will ultimately lead them to e-health practice.
“There should also be a change of mindsets, all healthcare providers and practitioners must be prepared to embrace change because research shows that some people in the health sector are resisting change and may have developed some kind of animosity towards e-health. And this can lead to fiasco.”