Tech in Health: The challenges

Healthcare like any other business has its value chain. These are areas where stakeholders can add and/or extract value in the business processes.

However unlike other types of business I have been involved in, the healthcare value chain is very different in that it is long chain which has many complexities. On one part you have several inputs required to manage a patient from procedures, medicine,equipment, labor to other areas that involve financing the treatment of the same patient. This same patient, who is the main customer in the value chain, has multiple needs to extract from this value chain. These needs are un-predictable (at least for now) because sickness is not necessarily a need. It just happens (or so we think) .

In the early days of tech in health, vendors of IT solutions were mainly building solutions that were targeting the entire value chain. Without fully understanding the complex value chain these vendors ended up building systems that were big,obstinate, expensive and at times slow . These solutions never really met the needs of the customers who were using them because they tried to satisfy all areas of the value chain. The learning there was this is not entirely possible. These vendors seemed to have gone through the Kenyan 8-4-4 education system that espouses having some knowledge in a wide array of subjects ( tongue-in cheek)

Gone are the days of super hero systems. Today we are seeing an avalanche of specialized software solutions targeting particular areas of the value chain e.g. supply chain systems, biometric systems, radiology systems, lab systems, financial systems, insurance benefit management systems. The list is endless. These systems keep coming through the cracks. And this has just started more are coming.

The unintended consequence of this explosion of software solutions has created a problem to for health care procurement teams. They are unable to determine whether these solutions will make their lives easier or “messier” . This has emanated also for the fact that these software solutions do not “talk” to each other. This has resulted in headaches as well as high costs of integrating systems and maintaining these integrations. This is worsened by the fact that these specialized systems work in “silos” with some systems not amenable to integrating. Again, headaches and costs are heightened. The final result of these unintended consequences is resistance to new software by the intended end users. I call this “software fatigue“. They are tired of another system that promises heaven but delivers more work.

For healthcare to reap the benefits of new technology software solution providers need to provide solutions that are user friendly (internal improvement) that can easily connect with other systems (external improvement). Improving user friendly software requires software vendors to build their solutions in conjunction with the target user. This sounds like it is logical but the problem persists of software vendors who build what they think the customer wants rather than what the customer want. To easily connect with other systems, software vendors need to come together and agree on what set of standards they will adopt to make integrations less of a nightmare.

At the Kenya Healthcare Federation, the newly formed ICT committee is spearheading the initiative to make technology solutions connect and exchange data easily. This has been a task that we, the ICT committee at KHF, have been pursuing for the last two years and we expect to work on this for one more year before we bring private sector tech players together. Tech solutions providers are slowly beginning to see the benefits of making it easier for their customer to use their solutions together with other solutions. There is less resistance being seen and more cooperation is happening. Knowing technology, once we achieve this goal other challenges will appear. They always do.

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