Digital Health in Cameroon
On Saturday 25 May 2019, Dr. Ebasone Kewir hosted a Twitter chat via m-Typha, featuring Che Francis of eDoctar and Dr. Dzekem of Keafon Health. The discussion was centered around the current state of Digital Health in Cameroon and way forward. Here we summarize the perceptions of people with regards to digital health.
People think digital health is all about smartphones and the internet
Mobile apps and social media are elements of digital health, but they are just a tiny part of it. Basic technology such as USSD and SMS services, internet connectivity, mobile phones (choronko) are already available to people both in rural and urban areas. Cameroon has 19 million mobile phone users with 6.13 million using the internet. There is a huge opportunity to reach these people and educate them. The opportunity to eradicate health illiteracy is in our palms but we are not taking advantage of it.
Cameroonians are not very ambitious when it comes to adopting innovation
Today with the internet, a laptop, smartphone, and a brain we should be able to have digital health services readily available to us, but we don’t. The government has a role to play in shaping policy but with information democratization, we do not need permission to learn and implement digital solutions. “Digital” is here and in full scale, it is just the application and acceptability that is missing and this a problem of mindset rather than lack of resources. We need forward-thinking leaders and citizens. There is a widespread wind of mediocre thinking among Cameroonians, that stems from the top to the bottom.
The situation is quite different elsewhere in Africa, for example in East Africa, women in villages are receiving payments via cryptocurrency, talking to doctors remotely via telemedicine platforms and receiving health advice via SMS. This is totally doable if the will is there and if the mindset is different.
Healthcare workers and developers need to be more creative and forward thinking
The healthcare industry is a huge business and must be treated as such. Most hospitals in Cameroon today including top hospitals do not have a website or a social media account to reach out to their patients (customers). This is not what you observe in other industries. Patients are starting to do a background check on hospitals and doctors before visiting them, and the only way to get access to this information is by having the minimum – A website that informs the public about your services.
We cannot maintain the status quo and practice medicine the same way it was done 20 years ago. Developers should not limit themselves to telehealth platforms for patient-provider communication, but go beyond that and be more innovative in aspects such as electronic health records, online bill payment, digital prescription filling working together with accredited pharmacies, and most especially considering the shortage of specialists in the country, platforms that permit GPs to get input in patient management from a specialist remotely should be encouraged. All these require acceptability from the government, healthcare providers and the population.
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Dr. Dzekem is a physician, researcher and a health policy advocate. He obtained his Doctor of Medicine (MD) degree from the University of Buea and practiced as a primary care physician in Cameroon before moving to the University of Ibadan, Nigeria for post graduate studies and eventually to the United States as an Inaugural Obama Scholar where he obtained a Master in Public Health Policy and International Development, with focus on global health and health systems from the Harris School of Public Policy, University of Chicago. Dr. Dzekem has served as a speaker in international conferences, he is the author/co-author to several articles in peer-reviewed journals and a reviewer for the Cardiovascular Journal of Africa. He is the Co-founder and Executive Director of the Keafon Health. He has special interest in strengthening health systems and improving access to primary care in underserved communities.