In 2010 the Ghanaian government launched a national e-health strategy to improve coverage and expand access to health care. “E-health holds a lot of promise for making the big strides urgently needed for improving the health of our communities, especially those living in rural areas,” wrote the former minister of health, Benjamin Kunbuor, in the launch document for the national e-health strategy. At the time, according to the document, there were five different types of software used to manage hospitals, with key elements of patient records remaining exclusively paper-based. In addition, the Ministry of Health (MoH) estimated that over 40% of the population had to travel more than one hour to reach the nearest health facility, with specialist services largely limited to urban areas. As such, mobile- and computer-based technologies will help to address inefficiencies in the system, as well as extend the reach of health care.
Since 2010, the government has attempted to create a more unified scheme that would work hand-in-hand with the expanding health care system. In its e-health launch paper, the MoH said that it would need to spend around $115m over the course of five years to implement its e-health strategy, which would involve developing an e-health human resources programme by the third year, a telemedicine pilot within three years and a pilot electronic patient records system in select health facilities by the fourth year, among other targets. Antiquated paper filing systems have been slowly replaced by computerised records, and the MoH has been gradually rolling out biometric identification cards.
Biometric registration is currently ongoing in six of Ghana’s 10 regions – Greater Accra, Central, Eastern, Ashanti, Volta and Brong Ahafo – with national roll-out expected to be completed by year-end 2015, according to the National Health Insurance Authority (NHIA). Government-issued biometric identification cards are able to store medical information such as blood groups and allergies, as well as help verify the individual seeking treatment. Ghana’s first pilot electronic claims submission (e-claims) system became active in April 2013, with the system currently being rolled out across various service providers.
The MoH has also been working on more targeted initiatives alongside NGOs. The Ghana Mobile Technology for Community Health initiative, a collaborative effort by the Grameen Foundation and Ghana Health Service, was launched in 2009. Among its projects is a system called Mobile Midwife which sends automated SMS message to pregnant women to remind them of their medical appointments. It also sends out individually tailored messages on vaccinations, nutrition and other pregnancy-related issues.
Private developers are also working on applications for mobile phones and computers that will aid Ghanaians in their interactions with the health care system. MoJa, an app developed through a partnership between Vodafone Ghana Foundation and Mpire Info Business System, offers incentives to individuals to donate blood by rewarding them with free access to qualified medical practitioners via live chats and virtual clinics. They are also able to find matches for their blood type. At the same time, the National Blood Service is able to maintain needed stocks as well as have a record of available blood types in case of emergency, with registered donors asked to give blood every four months.
Dokita, an online application launched in beta mode in late 2014, gives users access to a large network of doctors who can answer their questions, as well as the ability to subscribe to information on health topics that are relevant to their needs. Users can also schedule hospital appointments through the app. ClaimSync, an Accra-based software company, has developed software to create an electronic medical records platform that can link the various parts of a hospital visit as well as insurance providers.
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