10 Nigerian Health innovation ideas that are not telemedicine – Op-Ed

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Editor’s Note: This week’s blog comes from Dr. Ikpeme Neto (Founder, Wella Health Technologies). He explores 10 tech ideas that may help transform Nigeria’s Health Sector. Dr. Neto is an internal medicine physician and digital health entrepreneur.

I recently noticed a peculiar hashtag trending on Twitter. It was a hashtag for a telemedicine application that enables patients to chat with a doctor. In my work supporting Nigerian health technology entrepreneurs, telemedicine apps have become a dime a dozen. I see a new one almost every fortnight. The preponderance of telemedicine as a health innovation idea from many disparate people bothers me. Surely there are more innovative ideas beyond the now standard ‘chat with a doctor’.
I came with a few other ideas even though I haven’t thought too long and hard about the business model or specific points of execution in each case, but any entrepreneur is welcome to pursue any of these ideas after due diligence. Just remember to send me a plate of ‘Naija Jollof’ as thanks. Here goes:

1. Locally relevant and accessible health content. Most health content are either of questionable quality or doesn’t fully fit our context. I believe a market exists for health content that the average Nigerian can relate to and share. Leveraging audio, video and local languages may encourage widespread adoption, the local languages aspect being particularly key. My company, Wellahealth, provides pro bono monthly breast self-examination reminders via SMS. The message is available in four languages and we find people increasingly opting for a local language rather than English.

2. Price listings and comparison for health procedures and services. Over 70% of health payments in Nigeria are out of pocket. We can probably extrapolate from this that the average person is price sensitive. Thus, if given a choice they’d opt for the cheaper service, all else being equal. Wouldn’t it be great if they could go to a place where they select what health service they need and then immediately get a sense for what exactly that service entails and what it would cost?

3. Bed availability across hospitals. I recently came across a tweet from a young man whose father had suffered a stroke yet couldn’t be admitted into the teaching hospital he first presented to as they didn’t have any beds. The family traversed the busy city of Lagos with their sick father in order to find a hospital with a bed. Imagine if after being rejected at the first hospital, he consulted a service that could tell him which hospital had a bed available.

State of  Public Health Centre (PHC) at Kaffe Gada Local Government Area, Sokoto state. From Twitter user @saratu_ibrahim. 

4. Mobile health service on wheels. Healthcare access is a notorious problem to solve. Many Primary Health Centres (PHCs) in local areas are meant to bridge the access gap but are often dilapidated or non-functional.
What if we equip a mobile clinic that travels through a few areas regularly to treat the common problems that afflict people? The clinic can be a large van or even a trailer that’s stocked with all the essentials. The local people know the clinic days and attend on those days at a regular parking site for the vehicle.

The New Zealand national breast cancer screening mobile unit. Photo source: WikiMedia

5. Hospital Errand as a service. The experience at public hospitals have one unifying factor; it is usually filled with stress for patients and their relatives. What if there was an errand service where patients or patients’ relatives pay someone to do all the walking around for them?

6. Mobile intelligent discharge summaries/ medical communication automation.
I remember being in the National Hospital in Abuja and seeing a house officer attempt to provide diabetes education. From the patient’s face, it was evident that most of the information was going over his head. Now imagine if, after the hospital stay, a discharge summary is delivered to the patient via his mobile that details advice from the caregiver, includes reminders for appointments, drug regimens and future care he may need.

7. Hospital-based crowdfunding
A member of my church once had a bad road traffic accident. His treatment cost millions of naira but fortunately for him, he had the support of a large community that was able to contribute to help pay for his care. How about we create health wallets that reside in communities or in hospitals specifically to cater for emergency care. People can contribute to this wallet to cover supplies or care for those who are unable to afford. Philanthropists can also add to the kitty periodically and the services can be extended beyond emergency care

Surgical safety checklist. Image source: WHO

8. Intelligent non-paper-based checklists
Many doctors hate checklists, but the truth is that they work and are safer for patients. The renowned surgeon, Atul Gawande details as much in his book, The Checklist Manifesto. For surgery specifically, the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends the use of a surgical safety checklist every time surgery is being done.
With the help of a developer, a hospital could create a USSD directory of protocols so as the doctor manages the patient, he dials the code to go over the protocol and when he’s done, an SMS is sent to a dashboard or the patient so the patient himself can confirm and be a partaker in their care.

9. Electronic mortality reporting
A lot of deaths happen in hospitals but their causes and frequency per hospital are quite vague. This is probably because it’s difficult to report deaths and reporting is not enforced. An electronic platform will make data collation easier and more efficient and encourage more reporting.

10. Automating incentives and rewards system
This is a somewhat light-hearted yet serious idea to round out the list. We need a way to enforce good behaviour in our health care leaders. Carrots are useful and so are sticks. Say a bonus that’s automatically paid when certain independently verifiable targets are met, or a penalty fee applied when targets are not met.

These are only 10 ideas of potentially hundreds more that hopefully will give you the inspiration to think deeper about how you can innovate around the difficult Nigerian health terrain. If you do decide to pursue any, don’t forget to send me my ‘Naija Jollof’.

Do you have any other tech ideas that you think will transform Nigeria’s Health Sector? Let us know!

BIO: Dr Ikpeme Neto is an internal medicine physician and digital health entrepreneur. He is the founder of Wellahealth a health technology startup that’s leveraging technology to make quality health more accessible and affordable. He is also the founder of Digital health Nigeria, an initiative to improve the success and adoption of digital health via entrepreneurship.
He writes a monthly newsletter that summarizes key happenings in the African health tech and innovations space. Subscribe here: https://t.co/voYQwz6I4j 

Discussion3 Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing your ideas. I enjoy reading about innovative ideas and thinking about them as well.
    The ideas are great. Nonetheless, I cannot help but think about their feasibility and the proposed benefit to patients.
    Take the hospital errand service for instance, it is great idea but it does not seem cost effective as families will still have to pay for the service and not everyone might be able to afford that. In that case, an idea that provides a streamlined triage system and revises the protocol for hospital admission and patient management system might increase patient and families satisfaction and reduce stress. And that should be free anyway.

  2. I AM NOT JUST FASCINATED BUT TICKLED BY THE VERY BRILLIANT IDEAS FROM DR. NETO.
    i am not offering him a pot of Naija jollof(acclaimed to be the best in the world) but i promise
    am certainly going to look over those exciting ideas. Thank you for bringing some smile to my
    face this morning.
    Means there is still a whole lot of goodwill around aside the gloom canvass pervading the health
    space.

  3. Wow! These are some of the ideas mohealth.ng is going to offer. Great post. The more the better or is it merrier.

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