• Saturday, July 20, 2024
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BusinessDay

Companies look to crack market of 35m internet users

telemedicine

An area of growth accelerated by the COVID-19 crisis business executives are certain would be sustained is digitisation in the new world of work.

Healthcare delivery in Nigeria is catching up quicker than expected, with telemedicine deployed substantially in transferring treatment and monitoring of COVID-19 patients from within hospital walls to personal residences.

Killing two birds with a stone, the Lagos State government, for instance, is lowering the economic and human cost of having unnecessarily high admission of mild cases in its isolation centres limited in capacity, and is raising productivity in terms of the volume of patients it is able to administer care.

Over 5,000 COVID-19 patients have been monitored and treated using telemedicine during both the first and second waves of the pandemic, according to Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu.

Telemedicine involves the use of digital information and communication technologies, such as computers and mobile devices, to access and manage healthcare services remotely.

Just as technology is blotting out redundancies in supply chains and driving outcomes via remote working, the pandemic is pushing telemedicine to new heights of care delivery that experts consider to have reached a point-of-no-going-back.

It is a seemingly unfolding clip of the bigger picture of wider access to healthcare remotely.

A good number of healthcare businesses have adjusted to the new way of life in which their clients want to be anywhere but a hospital for fear of exposure to the deadly virus.

When the pandemic struck, Helium Health, a health technology solution company swiftly activated a telemedicine solution it had planned to unveil later in 2020.

The reception was overwhelming that over 20 percent of its existing customer base jumped on the product as healthcare experts, especially doctors, needed telecommunications channels to consult, monitor and interact with patients.

“The pandemic really brought a lot of awareness. In a space where most people can be change-resistant and tech-averse, it forced them to see the need for change. It became a request as we went by selling our product,” Oluwatobiloba Banwo, Helium Health’s head of private sector strategy, told BusinessDay in an interview.

“From a cost perspective, it is cost-efficient and can improve quality of care. It saves travel cost and shorter visits to the hospital. You can actually work for a foreign hospital and still be in the country,” Banwo said.

What the company did was to create an online platform where doctors can book appointments with the patients with the electronic medical record (EMR) available. Without requiring a specialised application, patient get a link that can be copied to any browser and interface with a doctor, either through audio or visual consultation.

Health technology providers like Helium are looking to crack Africa’s largest market of 99 million internet users, projected to hit 131.7 million by 2023.

The goldmine, they say, lies in deepening internet penetration further to rural communities where quality healthcare access is scarce and also better quality of internet connection in the urban areas.

“The accessible market is tied to the number of people with access to internet connection and it is about 35 million Nigerians, and it will only keep growing, with about 25 percent year-on-year growth,” Banwo said.

A McKinsey & Company report on trends that will shape 2021 quoted Michael Fisher, president/CEO of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Centre, US, projecting telehealth could account for 30 percent of all healthcare visits in the future.

There were 2,000 telehealth visits recorded at the organisation in 2019 and 5,000 a week in July 2020.

Also in Japan, fewer than 1,000 institutions offered remote care in 2018 and by July 2020, more than 16,000 did.

“Before the COVID-19 crisis, the idea of remote working was in the air but not proceeding very far or fast. But the pandemic changed that, with tens of millions of people transitioning to working from home, essentially overnight, in a wide range of industries,” the report stated.

Backing the forecast on where the future of health is tilted, Standard Chartered, a multinational investment bank, equally took the standpoint that the next wave of innovation is expected to be driven by permanent changes brought by COVID-19 in medical tech, internet-of-things and e-vehicle technology breakthroughs.