AKDN eHRC and the Aga Khan Health Board, USA (AKHB, USA) have collaborated to develop Journey For Health, a mobile application designed to encourage and motivate users to stay fit. Launched in April 2017 for users in the United States, Journey For Health is an engaging application...
The Aga Khan Development Network eHealth Resource Centre (AKDN eHRC) and the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF), Syria met in Beirut, Lebanon to discuss how technology can be leveraged to provide health care access to underserved communities in Syria.
In February 2017, AKDN eHRC conducted a workshop on telemedicine and mHealth innovations in Dubai, UAE for health care professionals and programme managers. In March, another session of the workshop was conducted in Islamabad, Pakistan for participants from Afghanistan...
AKDN eHRC in collaboration with multiple national and international partners undertook two impact evaluation studies in 2015.
In continued efforts to promote improved access to quality health care services in remote, rural regions, AKDN eHRC has partnered with the Global South eHealth Observatory of the Pierre Fabre Foundation.
Dr Fatima Mohbatali, Regional CEO, Aga Khan Health Services, Central Asia
With the considerable expansion of the AKDN eHealth programme over the last few years, what further expansion do you foresee in Tajikistan?
Absolutely, eHealth programme has expanded in Afghanistan and Tajikistan to reach out to areas where expert health care is required. The eHealth services help to supplement primary and secondary level health care with teleconsultation and continuous medical education for physicians and nurses. I foresee further expansion to remote areas like Bartang valley and Murgab where roads are blocked during winter season for long periods of time. eHealth in these situations would add value in patient care.
Collaboration with health care professionals in Russia on eHealth services is being discussed. How do you see this developing in the future? What are the benefits of such collaboration
Collaborating with health care professionals would be a good development. Language would not be a barrier and patients would be able to communicate directly with health care providers without a translator being involved. Often, patients from Tajikistan travel to Russia for treatment. With eHealth connectivity between the two countries it would provide an opportunity for the patients to have an initial discussion with relevant doctors prior to traveling or even decide whether there is a need to travel to Russia. The patient could be treated via “virtual” service delivery. It would add value in care provision of the patients
Sustainability of eHealth operations is important to ensure patients continue receiving high-quality health care services. What is the sustainability plan for Tajikistan?
Sustainability is a challenge. Currently, we rely on donor funding though we have recently initiated affordable user fee, which will contribute towards the cost that is a first step forward. To involve the government to include eHealth in its health budget would be beneficial. However, in developing parts of the world the budget allocation for health is nominal and it barely meets the needs of public health care setups. With time and with regular dissemination of information about the benefits of eHealth services government’s acceptance and contribution would need to come in.
Our eHealth programme in Kyrgyz Republic is a great example of a public-private partnership. What are your thoughts on the importance of leveraging similar partnerships to encourage eHealth adoption?
Yes, a public private partnership with a combination of user fees is a good option. In the long run to attain sustainability buy-in from various stakeholders would be of dire importance.
What are some challenges the eHealth Programme in South and Central Asia has encountered? And how can we mitigate them?
There were many challenges related to eHealth. The most initial one was acceptance by the doctors and patients about the benefits and accuracy of diagnosis with both being stationed in different sites (countries). With awareness sessions and ‘word of mouth’ marketing of success stories by the patients, we have been able to gain the confidence of the health care providers and receivers. Language barrier was addressed by having an interpreter at the time of consultation. And finally but also vital was the understanding of the cost implication of the services which again brings us to the topic of sustainability. After many years we have been able to introduce user fees as a first step forward. The AKDN eHealth Resource Centre has been very supportive and has provided technical backing and training to local staff to keep the programme rolling.
In what other ways can the AKDN eHRC and AKHS collaborate to provide access to affordable health care in the region? In what areas do you particularly see AKDN eHRC playing a critical role?
AKDN eHRC has provided technical support and training of staff in managing and maintaining the system throughout. The other areas where AKDN eHRC could play a critical role is helping enhance eHealth services that are not available but is a need of the area to further augment accessibility, developing cost effective mode of service delivery and sharing examples of countries where eHealth services have become sustainable that could be adapted in the region. Another aspect would be to help develop a mode of dissemination of health information via telephonic messages for preventive health care for the population. As we move forward we would need to ensure that "eHealth Code of Ethics" continues to be part and parcel of our services.
What do you consider to be the most daunting challenges of eHealth adoption in developing countries?
Unavailability of Internet, no telephonic coverage, lack of technical support, maintenance of equipments along with all that I have mentioned earlier—language barrier, resistance to adapt a new system which includes using the Internet for diagnosis, patient and health care providers’ education. In other words there is a resistance to establishing new relationships with consumers (both providers and patients). Currently, the government’s contribution towards eHealth services is a challenge.
How do you believe technology is changing the role of health care professionals?
As the public use of the Internet grows, health care organisations are using this opportunity to reach a large part of the population cost effectively. Over a period of time, eHealth would further depict increasing operational efficiency with accessibility, for population health programme, patient care and family support which the health care professionals would become cognizant of and value it. For doctors, eHealth represents an opportunity to change their relationship with patients with alternative approaches to medical treatment.
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