The Rise of Health Data, Analytics, and Business Intelligence in Africa
San Francisco, CA, 22nd May 2021, ZEXPRWIRE – Unlike other sectors, the Fourth Industrial Revolution has come slowly to healthcare. The advent of big data analytics, and the intrinsic value it holds, is heralded as a deep opportunity to change the face of the medical profession. It promises to support a future of coordinated and interoperable health systems, an advent of improved patient information security, increased meaningful interactions between patient and physician, and a general decrease in inefficiencies and errors. The digitization of healthcare, when used correctly, has the potential to drive deeply positive clinical, organizational, and societal outcomes.
This potential elixir for the medical sector’s ills, however, has not been uniformly felt. Many governments, healthcare providers, nonprofits and patients in the Global South, particularly Sub-Saharan Africa, have not yet been able to leverage analytics to extract deep value and business intelligence from medical big data. Africa’s medical systems are ripe for improvement, but accessible, accurate and useful analysis is key to enabling healthcare providers to spend more time helping people.
Healthcare and Big Data
Analytics can simply be understood as the use of data collected in order to design meaningful insights and enhance actionable outcomes. It’s the bedrock of an efficient and effective patient journey, a means of optimizing resourcing and strategic planning, a catalyst for exploring radical new health modalities, and the secret ingredient in fighting emergent disease.
Big data analytics and healthcare intelligence is core to a number of potential improvements to Africa’s healthcare systems: Beyond front-facing EMRs and workflow augmentation, health systems digitization has a vast number of potential benefits:
- Trend spotting and infectious disease outbreak surveillance;
- Delivery of effective telehealth, especially to remote regions;
- Optimization of staffing;
- Real time patient monitoring, leading to more proactive healthcare and informed decision making;
- Systematizing high quality treatment ;
- Improved coordination amongst healthcare providers with secure and privacy-centric data sharing;
- As part of electronic medical records, rReducing redundancy, human error, over prescription, and drug-to-drug misalignment;
- Driving accessibility of medical information through information standardization and knowledge management;
- Identification of human error, including resource mismanagement, fraud, and patient confidentiality issues; Remedy communication errors, including seemingly innocuous concerns like physician handwriting; and, limiting patient record management costs.
But it’s not as simple as accessing ‘big data’ and deploying it. This information is available in volumes never seen before in the healthcare sector (termed Data Overload), it changes and is added to at remarkable speed, its scope is vast, and its structure is highly varied and heterogenous. The result is that the promise of big data and its ability to facilitate incredible transformation is locked behind a question of usability. In order to leverage big data effectively, medical professionals, governments and others need access to high quality and approachable analysis that is action-ready.
Certainly, application of this potential technology enabled panacea, however, has been faced with significant hurdles in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Pathway to Digitization
Africa is in the midst of a digital renaissance. Once the quintessential example of the digital divide, Africa as a whole has challenged this characterization in remarkable ways. Research suggests nearly half the continent will be mobile internet users within the next three years, accounting for approximately 475 million unique subscribers. 65% of total connections by 2025 will come from internet ready smartphones. The continent is also home to nearly half of the world’s mobile money accounts, a revolution of financial systems change brought on by the rapid adoption of peer-to-peer lending and payments.
More importantly, African governments and their partners have seen the need to drive a digital-first approach to healthcare, as a means of alleviating resource burdens and improving efficiency. As of 2020, 41 of 54 countries have authored and published national digital health strategies, making the continent a bastion of exciting and hopeful sector
innovation. Healthcare investments in Africa have also risen by nearly $1.3 billion in 5 years, representing some 45% of all private equity and venture capital funding on the continent.
Yet at the same time, Africa has found difficulties in adopting a digital-centric approach to healthcare, despite it being one of the heaviest burdened regions for infectious disease such as ebola, HIV/AIDS and, now, COVID-19. Barriers to continental healthcare digitization are wide-ranging:
- Cost of implementation remains high, especially for the continent’s least developed countries;
- Although improving, digital literacy remains relatively low across the continent, at a 50% average of global adoption levels. Access to digital literacy resources is equally sparse;
- Infrastructure availability, from broadband connections to basic electricity supply;
- A lack of trained professionals to adopt digital healthcare opportunities; and,
- Government prioritization has focused on other issue areas.
Deployment in Sub-Saharan Africa will equally be faced with the considerable task of culture shift. Polling commissioned by Stanford University confirmed that physicians and medical professionals have a narrow view of the benefits that could be brought forward by digitization, including tools such as electronic health records (EHRs), with only 8% seeing clinical value. Instead, nearly half (49%) of those recorded suggested that digitizing medical records and the use of EHRs detracts from clinical effectiveness, particularly due to interoperability issues.
The consequence of the above is a region that is being heartedly pulled in the direction of healthcare transformation, while simultaneously being weighed down by context, history, resource capacity, and the digital divide.
It’s Morpheus Health System’s vision to break this stalemate, to push Africa towards a brighter and healthier future. One that leverages a deep knowledge of Africa’s digital roadblocks to identify, build, partner on, and launch cutting edge data analytics and business intelligence solutions to enable the solving of endemic health challenges. We understand that the most impactful changes are driven by scalable access to good, clean and reliable
data, whether that be support for the latest vaccine research, the comprehensive management of cross-provider treatment programs, or the diagnosis of clinical workflow inefficiencies. If we want to create a global healthcare model built for the future, big data and analytics are essential for our foundation. .
Big Data Defence Against Infectious Disease
Africa is well versed in the effects of rampant infectious disease, and has seemingly avoided the worst of the pandemic. An estimated 69% of people, including 92% of pregnant women and 90% of children, living with HIV/AIDS are in sub-Saharan Africa. Between 2013-2016, Africa saw the largest recorded outbreak of ebola since the virus’ discovery, accounting for some 28’000 cases. Other communicable diseases, such as malaria, tuberculosis, and respiratory infections continue to challenge the continent’s healthcare infrastructure.
However, with the onset of COVID-19, we’ve seen a monumental push towards the rapid adoption of bleeding edge healthcare technology. The large-scale use of mRNA vaccine technology has brought peace of mind to hundreds of millions of patients. Increased cross-border knowledge sharing and a global effort to develop a rapid response vaccine production has been a remarkable feat.
Yet, maybe most exciting of all is the use of big data as a defence partner against infectious disease. Research has repeatedly stressed the importance of big data applications in comprehensive and effective patient care and overall operational efficiency. Particularly with the emergence of machine learning technology, big data holds innate value in providing real-time patient and treatment analytics, new research breakthroughs by way of cross-functional dataset analysis, scalable information management with reduced maintenance costs, and a general reduction in system siloing.
The combination of big data, solutions such as electronic health records, machine learning, and effective information analytics, “will enable effective analysis of massive infectious disease and surveillance data to support risk and resource analysis for government agencies, healthcare service providers, and medical professionals…”
The above has already been applied in practice. During the 2013-2016 Ebola crisis, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control swapped paper forms with a text message based surveillance network, which became a successful and streamlined method of outbreak containment. The GAVI vaccine alliance was equally successful in reducing 70% of pneumococcal disease-
related hospital patients simply by using data and analytics to monitor vaccine administration rates.
However, to achieve these positive outcomes requires an ability to extract useful information, intelligence, and value from large-scale data. While we can improve our capacity to collect relevant patient information by way of new platforms, software, and connected tools, the true value is only as meaningful as the utility of the collected data. Certainly, our ability to effectively combat infectious disease, as well as general deficiencies in healthcare, with big data will depend on a paralleled, rapid shift in on-demand access to reliable information available to governments, non-profits, and health institutions alike.
A Revolution in Heath
Africa sits at the precipice of a transformative shift in healthcare, powered by big data and the use of digital solutions for positive patient and population outcomes. The opportunity this brings, not only to populations struggling to stretch limited medical resources, but also to a burgeoning cohort of remarkable African-led startups, which cannot be understated. Held up by the wave of digital adoption across the continent, now is the moment to make an impact.
Morpheus Health Systems is pioneering solutions to collect and extract meaningful value from healthcare data in order to transform Africa’s healthcare environment. This is a response to our belief that the systems and processes the current African healthcare system is built upon are wholly inadequate to meet the demands of a continent hosting 1 billion people, a rising middle class, a burgeoning medical tourism sector, and a public that expects and deserves better. Particularly in the wake of COVID-19, health, driven by good data and its analysis, underpins our ability to lift Africa to new heights and to achieve our ambitious dreams…We’re taking on this challenge!
Morpheus Health Systems
Mr. Antoine D. Clinton, MPH
Mr. Femi Opaneye