• Standards
  • What's preventing eHealth adoption in Africa?

    African countries are converging under a common desire: to transform African healthcare through technology. But they also share a common frustration: African healthcare's slow and unsteady embrace of new technology. 

    Why do so many seemingly great technologies fail to penetrate the health care system?

    This was a question I asked myself while undertaking my master’s research. I hope the following answers shed some light on the realities of technology adoption in healthcare. 

    1. Many eHealth innovations don’t address the real problem 

    eHealth innovators start by discovering a useful technology. Later, they figure out how people can use it. eHealth should not only address a problem, but needs to be goal directed. Meaning, innovators should start with the goals of the end-user. The solutions come next. When the order is reversed, the results usually disappoint.

    As an example, the introduction of wearable health tech has excited innovators in the industry. These wristbands, watches, sensors and headsets can obtain and transmit large amounts of data on heart rhythms and blood pressure. However, there’s little evidence those wearing them overcome abnormal heart rhythms or elevated blood pressures better than those who don't. 

    2. No one wants to pay for new technologies 

    Creating an innovative technology to help doctors and patients isn't enough. Patients, doctors, healthcare facilities and insurance companies long for the benefits and value that these technologies provide, however, each thinks someone else should pay for it.

    Furthermore, new technologies that lowers costs and reduce patient visits discourage doctors and healthcare facilities from embracing these technologies because they work on a fee-for-service model instead of a fee-for-value model.

    3. The infrastructure to share information is underdeveloped 

    The introduction of the electronic health record (EHR) allows healthcare providers to share patient information and collaborate across different specialties to provide holistic treatment plans for the patients.  However, in Africa the supporting infrastructure, policies and standards for data sharing across multiple platforms and geographies are lagging.  Several African countries have started investing in strategic working groups to address this challenge.

    4. Technology slows down users

    For many healthcare providers, entering data into an EHR takes longer than keeping a paper record.  The structured format of the EHR also frustrates healthcare provider when the application prevents them from skipping steps or leaving out clinical details. 

    Frustrating as it may be, the added information reduces the risks of medical error, avoids redundant testing, and facilitates easier access to test results.  The benefits to the patient are clear, but less so for the healthcare provider. Getting healthcare providers to embrace these more effective approaches is the next big challenge for innovators to overcome.

  • AMA has a structure for choosing EHR providers

    Procurement sits between EHR strategy and implementation. It’s a challenging process and needs a rigorous structure to assess providers and choose a few to move on to a procurement short list, The American Medical Association (AMA) has a checklist that helps to find a vendor worthy of a long-term partnership. It’s step 4 in the Part 2, the Pre-Game section of the American Medical Association® Digital Health Implementation Playbook.

    Selecting and Vendor Guide aims to find a long-term partner, not just an organisation to execute a set of transactions. Speaking with similar organisations or practices can provide valuable information and insights needed to construct shortlists of quality vendors. eHealth conferences can be another source.

    Discussions are not enough. Structured market research and activity’s needed too. AMA suggests: 

    Build a Request for Proposal (RFP) that clearly outlines the goals that define successSend RFPs to vendors that most closely align to these goals Review RFP responses alongside key representatives from core and advisory teamsAsk for case studies and referrals Schedule live vendor demonstrations with members of the core, advisory and implementation teamsEvaluate vendors across six critical factors:

    o   Business

    o   ICT

    o   Security

    o   Usability

    o   Customer service

    o   Efficacy and clinical validation

    Narrow options to one or two preferred vendors in the pitch to leadership.

    Usability includes interoperability. Efficacy includes the vendors’ abilities to deliver organisational goals, metrics and Key Performance Indicators (KPI). For large-scale, strategic investment lick EHRs, three options may be more appropriate in revealing the differences between vendors’ technical services and cultures that are available. 

    AMA’s playbook can help Africa’s health systems to enhance the structure and sustainability of moving their EHR projects from investment decisions towards implementation. Procurement’s tough. Vendors are smart and used to the processes. AMA’s guidance helps to rebalance them.

  • New telehealth code of practice's out

    As their mutual cycles evolve, telehealth’s developments lead onto updated codes of practice. Telehealth Global has released the 2018/19 International Code of Practice for Telehealth Services, updated be the Telehealth Quality Group (TQG). Its perspective’s consumer and service users, and deals with: 

    Remote consultationsActivity monitoringTelecare and social alarms (PRS)Vital signs monitoringmHealthVirtual coachingIncorporates ISO/TS 13131: Health Informatics – Quality Planning Guidelines for Telehealth Services.

    Interoperability (IOp) and cyber-security are given more emphasis. Enhancing telehealth’s IOp  can improve its fitness for purpose. Consistent data between hubs and remote centres, and people’s devices in their homes is the goal. It’s seen as offering greater choice. 

    Better cyber-security’s needed to ensure more trust. It means effective cyber-security needs reaffirming, leading on to action to strengthen defences.

    Demonstrating telehealth’s performance is important too. More openness means that performance measures and achievements are required to be honestly and openly displayed on service websites. These can lead to greater accountability. 

    As Africa expands its telehealth programmes, and the role mHealth plays in them, TQG’s updated code provides a sound foundation to build from. Using the IOp and cyber-security perspectives can direct projects towards better performance for Africans.

     

  • Kenya’s mHealth standards are clear on compliance

    mHealth standards and guidelines are essential, but have to be applied. Like all regulations, effective compliance’s essential. Kenya Standards and Guidelines for mHealth Systems sets three main part of the Ministry of Health approach. They’re:

    Commitment at a senior level is a requirement for stakeholders, including an accountable resource either as an officer or managerImplementation that identifies the resources, including a person, needed for the design, development, implementation and monitoring stages and documenting compliance levels Audit, with a person assigned to provide an objective review of documentation and the compliance process to provide feedback and recommendations directly to management, especially for corrective action needed where compliance is weak or missing. 

    There’s a big stick too. Fines and penalties are part of a range of measures to encourage compliance. Building on Kenya National eHealth Policy 2016-2030, the mHealth standards are a huge step forward for eHealth regulation, not just for Kenya, but across Africa too.

  • How can Africa innovate with Unique Patient Identifiers?

    Unique Patient Identifiers (UPI) are both essential and demanding to achieve. They’re harder to use when data’s transferred and shared between organisations. An article from the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) proposes innovation with UPIs propriety to vendors and customers as part of the solution. For African health systems, it may improve the current position until national UPIs are in place.

    US provider organisations and payers are innovating with propriety UPIs. A common theme’s dealing with real time or batch queries held by third parties, such as credit agencies. These already have UPIs for their commercial activities. It suggests they offer value to health organisations because commercial entities frequently update and constantly maintain their data, providing current demographics for data warehouses, population health management and illness prevention.

    UPI innovation must be integrated with eHealth governance, which need developing in African health systems. Through eHealth governance, UPI innovation can engage with stakeholders such as:

    Governance teamsProfessional bodiesPatient access and registration staffHealth information management teamsICT teamsData users, such as care coordinators and health analytics teams.

    Their roles can extend to strategic information governance and how innovation and success will be applied. Mitigating risks is another role they can participate in.

    A set of generic questions can help to define UPI innovation:

    Who’s responsible for identifiers’ integrity, especially new identifier created by innovation?When existing data’s augmented with new external data, how is the new data integrated, and what is its lifecycle of managed?What are acceptable uses for the identifiers set by legal and regulatory requirements for UPIs, privacy and compliance?How can organisations incorporate UPI technology with human data stewardship to ensure a compliance and governance?How are discussions and findings from UPI innovation relayed to eHealth governance?How can discussions be for ICT, and people and process supporting eHealth governance?Should innovation deal with data creation for patient access or registration, data governance through procedures, processes and data fields standardisation, or both?How can a sample database be built to support proof of concept and technology?How can enough data be included in UPI innovation projects for rigorous, reliable testing, such as 100,000 records?How can UPI data goals be integrated into data governance programmes?

    AHIMA’s article says organisations and healthcare professionals are cautious in applying innovation to the long-standing UPI challenge. Mismatching records can have profound, adverse effects, so reluctance is reasonable. Despite these anxieties, innovation can still proceed, provided it’s based on a rigorous risk assessment, impact probability, costs and benefits.

    UPI innovation creates two activities for Africa’s health systems. One’s setting up their UPIs. The other is constant, managed innovation with UPIs.

  • IHE updates cardiology, IT infrastructure and radiology frameworks

    It is important that Africa’s health systems and informatics teams contribute to Integrating the Health Enterprise (IHE) updates. They are opportunities to help to shape eHealth’s essential building blocks and how they change.

    IHE has put out three framework updates:

    Cardiology Procedure Note (CPN) Rev. 1.1IT Infrastructure Technical Framework SupplementsRadiology volumes 1 to 4.

    The IHE Cardiology Technical Committee says trials began on 4 August 2017. They may be available for testing at IHE Connectathons. Comments on the changes can be submitted at any time.

    The IHE IT Infrastructure Technical Committee has published supplements for trial implementation, also from 4 August 2017. These profiles may be tested at IHE Connectathons and comments are invited at any time. They deal with:

    Mobile Care Services Discovery (mCSD) Rev. 1.1Mobile Cross-Enterprise Document Data Element Extraction (mXDE) Rev. 1.1Non-patient File Sharing (NPFSm) Rev. 1.1.

    Four updated Radiology Technical Framework (RADTF) volumes deal with:

    Volume 1 (RAD TF-1) Integration ProfilesVolume 2 (RAD TF-2) TransactionsVolume 3 (RAD TF-3) Transactions (continued)Volume 4 (RAD TF-4) National Extensions.

    Like the cardiology and IT infrastructure updates, comments can be submitted at any time and profiles may be tested at subsequent IHE Connectathons.

  • Kenya’s mHealth standards set out governance and policy rules

    Leadership’s seen as an underpinning component of mHealth governance and policy. Kenya Standards and Guidelines for mHealth Systems sets out the Ministry of Health approach to framework of strategies, plans, budgets, governance and policy.

    Kenya already has a governance framework. It integrates three stakeholder types, policy, suppliers and users. It fits into its institutional governance framework described in Kenya National eHealth Policy 2016 to 2030. Its mHealth governance arrangements fit within its three main policy stakeholder parts of policy, suppliers and users. Each one sets out stakeholders’ roles and responsibilities.

    Its regulation standards extend across:

    A certification frameworkProtection of privacy and confidentialityManaging disclosures of health informationSource code and application ownership.

    Governance has four main parts:

    SecurityValidationAccountabilityOwnership.

    These are huge steps forward for all Africa’s eHealth. A possible trajectory for eHealth governance may be towards the standards released by the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA). An eHNA post summarised these. COBIT 5 is an international for ICT governance in all economic sectors. Published by ISACA, It’s been adopted by AeHIN. As an extremely sophisticated governance model, it shows a possible destination of Africa’s eHealth governance.

  • Kenya’s mHealth standards set an implementation cycle

    Rigorous implementation standards are set out in Kenya Standards and Guidelines for mHealth Systems. The extensive content in the Ministry of Health report extends from planning to scaling up. The steps are:

    PlanningLandscape analysisLocal and national health priorities and needsTarget audience analysisProject management

    o   People’s roles, responsibilities, teams, communication and relationships

    o   Systems, from implementation to M&E

    o   Defined policies and procedures for data

    Partnership developmentDesign, including technology, content, workflow impact and usability, a critical requirement for benefits realisationTechnology decisionsCreating message contentTesting message contentPrototype and usability content

    o   Systems launch, including, Beta version process and creating user demand, including incentives and benefits

    M&E, including needs assessments, monitoring systems and outcomes

    o   mHealth system, including the WHO methodology mHealth Evaluation Reporting and Assessment (mERA)

    o   Compliance with the mHealth standards and guidelines

    Scaling up activities, including using the WHO model for mHealth Assessment and Planning for Scale (MAPS) and its six steps of groundwork, partnerships, financial health, technology and architecture, operations and M&E.

    Some implementation components are not emphasised explicitly in the standards and guidelines:

    Business cases, such as the Five Case Model, needed to identify optimal mHealth options for decision takers before mHealth projects begin and setting explicit probable, not potential, socio-economic goals measured by cost benefits or cost effectiveness, and affordability requirements, an essential component of sustainability and setting M&E baselines and performance targetsBenefits realisation models that follow on from project management and set baselines for the health benefits included in the standard’s M&E sectionApplying WHO’s Monitoring and Evaluating Digital Health Interventions A practical guide to conducting research and assessment accessible from eHNA’s ResourcesDistinguishing between mHealth’s economic and financial components, described in Defining a staged-based process for economic and financial evaluations of mHealth programs, also accessible from eHNA’s Resources.

    These added themes contribute to the standard’s goals of “Well thought-out planning … knowledgeable people … M&E.” It shows how demanding successful mHealth can be.

  • Kenya’s mHealth standards set SMS and ePrescribing practices

    Using SMS for health and healthcare’s an expanding initiative in Africa. Kenya’s Ministry of Health has set out a rigorous set of standards for it, and ePrescribing, in Kenya Standards and Guidelines for mHealth Systems. 

    As an effective communication tool for health in low-income countries, SMS need regulation and cyber-security standards that minimise the risk of privacy and confidentiality breaches. This extends across several activities. Kenya’s standards include:

    Risks of Personal Health Information (PHI) in SMSsStandards for text messages, including device selections, risk assessments, development practices and trainingPHI security guidelinesRisk management strategy, including password confidentiality and encryption.

    Standards for telephone and eConusltations deal with devices such as Interactive Voice and Video and Response (IVVR), mobile phones, teleconferencing, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP. It includes SMSs too. The themes are:

    Good medical practices, duties and responsibilitiesGuidelines for using eHealth and ICT to provide healthcareWhat to do in emergency situations. 

    ePrescribing extends from completing prescriptions, through delivery to pharmcists and on to dispensing to patients. Its goals include better quality healthcare, patient safety, accuracy and continuing care. The standards deal with:

    How to use ePrescribing, including patient choiceAuthenticating ePrescriptionsDelivering ePrescribed drugs and medications and the role of pharmacistsePrescribing data sets that include:

    o   Minimum patient demographics

    o   Prescription identifiers

    o   Product identification.

    While addressing current eHealth requirements, these standards lay a foundation for eHealth’s future scale and direction. It’s an opportunity to move eHealth regulation closer to project implementations, especially for ePrescribing.

  • Kenya’s mHealth standards are strong on IOp

    Kenya’s Ministry of Health has set a solid foundation for its next step in eHealth regulation and good practices. The second main section in Kenya Standards and Guidelines for mHealth Systems deals with information exchange and Interoperability (IOp). It has a seven stage model of IOp maturity, including level 0 for no maturity and three conventional IOp classifications of technical, syntactic and semantic. They’re:

    Conceptual, enabling other engineers to understand documentation and evaluationDynamic, to recognise and comprehend data changes in systems over timePragmatic, including modest AISemanticSyntactic and workflow integrationTechnical and integratedNone, so can be ignored.

    They combine into three categories, integration, IOp and composability for maximum interoperation. It’s a requirement that all Kenya’s mHealth complies with its IOp standards. These include Health Level (HL)7 version 3 for clinical messaging and International Classification of Diseases (ICD) 10, Systematized Nomenclature of Medicine (SNOMED) for coding, Logical Observation Identifiers Names and Codes (LOINC) and Rx Norm for pharmacies.

    Developers have to provide Standards for Applications Programming Interfaces (API) to define how their mHealth interacts with other systems. It fits into a Fast Health Interoperability Resources (FHIR) architecture. It complies with Integrating the Healthcare Enterprise (IHE) and HL7 standards

    While these apply to health and healthcare data, Kenya’s standards apply to social health determinants too. It’s an indicator of the breadth of its approach.