Ghana is on the verge of running one of the most digitalised health-care systems in Africa, with many digital interventions scheduled to be fully nationally on stream by the end of 2024, Vice-President Mahamudu Bawumia has said.
According to Dr Bawumia, this has become possible because of the many digital interventions introduced since 2017, as well as the infusion of digital technology into existing operations, which has led to greater access to health-care services and also revolutionised health-care delivery.
The vice-president made this disclosure while speaking on “The Role of Digitalisation in Modern Health Care Delivery: Recounting Ghana’s ICT Journey in the Fourth Republic” in Tamale at the launch of the National Health Insurance Authority’s “Active Month” celebrations on Monday (5 December 2022).
“The government of President Akufo-Addo since January 2017 has been at the forefront of providing improved public service delivery using digital solutions. One key area we have been pursuing aggressively is social and health services delivery to the population.
“The role of digital health solutions in our health-care sector cannot be overemphasised. Over the last few years, we have embarked on a digitalisation drive in the health sector as a response to the World Health Organization (WHO) call for member countries to implement digital health interventions in their health systems to improve access to care and well-being for their populations,” he said.
Outlining some of the digital interventions introduced so far, Dr Bawumia said, “Early this year … we launched a digital health solution in the pharmaceutical space, called the National Electronic Pharmacy Platform (NEPP), where clients can use their mobile phones to order their prescriptions to be delivered to them in the comfort of their homes.
“This digital innovation is also meant to check counterfeit or substandard medicines and help eliminate them from our pharmacies and chemical shops. It will also help the menace of drug abuse.
“The technology developer is currently engaging the National Health Insurance Authority on the technical and operational feasibility of the platform in the NHIS. We are also enrolling the top 100 pharmacies. The government is very keen on getting the platform fused into the NHIS operations by January next year. This will make Ghana the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to have a nationwide e-pharmacy,” he said.
Bawumia added, “The government has also introduced flexibility through the Lightwave Health Management Information System (LHIMS) and other technological platforms to manage electronic medical records without the use of printed booklets of the patient’s folder and avoid the possibility of patients’ medical records getting lost.
“So far, 147 hospitals have been networked, including the teaching hospitals, such as Tamale, Cape Coast, Komfo Anokye, Ho and Korle-Bu, as well as many secondary and primary health facilities, making patient records available to all these facilities without the use of folders. By the end of next year, we will have networked about 80% of all hospitals, and by the end of the following year, we will complete the networking of 100% of all our hospitals. This will make us the first country in Africa and one of a few in the world to have such a nationwide system.”
He added, “The government’s introduction of the Zipline services in 2019 to improve medical supplies has expanded from one distribution hub to six hubs in the remote areas, making Ghana home to the world’s largest fleet of medical-delivery drones.
“Zipline drones have undertaken 278,936 flights since their inception, making over 12 million deliveries, comprising 8.63 million lifesaving medical products or medicines, about 1.9 million child immunisation vaccine consumables and over 1.9 million COVID-19 vaccines and PPEs. It has also made very significant savings for the nation, both in lives and resources,” he said.
The vice-president noted that Ghana’s medical drone delivery service is the largest in the world and saves many lives daily.
Praising the management of the National Health Insurance Authority for infusing digitalisation into the operations of the NHIS, Vice-President Bawumia said the scheme has no doubt contributed, since its introduction, to increased use of health-care services, leading to improved health outcomes for the population.
“The NHIS has gone through several reforms over the years to improve its services to the members. On 9 November 2019, I personally launched the NHIS-Ghana Card linkage at the Accra International Conference Centre and today, over five million members of the NHIS have been linked to their Ghana Cards to enable them to use the Ghana Card to access health care since 1 May 2020.
“Hopefully, when all members of the scheme are linked to their Ghana Cards, the NHIS Card will be phased out and the Ghana Card will be the sole card for accessing health-care services in the credentialled health-care facilities.
“Aside this, the government has also embarked on a project, together with the National Identification Authority (NIA), National Health Insurance Authority (NHIA), Ghana Health Service, and Births and Deaths Registry, to link births and deaths data to the NIA database [and] give unique identification numbers to all newborn babies, starting first quarter of next year,” Dr Bawumia said.
“The NHIA has implemented electronic medical claims (Claim-IT) to reduce turnaround time for claims preparation and submission and reduce spurious claims and cost to the scheme for increased sustainability.
“Currently, close to 3000 health-care providers, representing 70%, are submitting medical claims electronically. The scale-up of this digital innovation is ongoing. All providers submitting manual claims have been trained and, hopefully, the over 5,000 credentialled health-care providers of the scheme will start submitting electronic claims by end of the second quarter of 2023,” he added.
Health-care providers wishing to join the scheme can now apply using an online system, reducing the turnaround time for processing applications, as well as saving the cost of processing paper applications, with copies of accompanying documents such as certificates digitised and the cost of travelling eliminated.
The NHIA is also updating its database with the locations of all facilities, specifying the GPS co-ordinates in line with the government’s address system agenda to ease communication and assessment, say officials of the scheme.
The launch in 2018 of the NHIA electronic receipting platform to enhance social auditing and accountability of revenue collection at NHIA district offices across Ghana has helped to establish daily premium collection and improve accountability and transparency in revenue mobilisation, NHIA officials say. It has also substantially promoted the electronic reconciliation of financial accounts, as well as promoting transparency and efficiency in the scheme’s financial operations.
Highlighting other digital interventions – such as the introduction of a mobile renewal system to enable existing NHIS members whose cards have expired to renew their card conveniently using any mobile phone, and the launch of an improved portal, dubbed “MyNHIS app”, which allows new members to register for the NHIS using the Ghana Card – Dr Bawumia challenged the NHIA to continue to introduce digital innovation in other areas of the scheme, to improve services for members.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health and allied agencies are also brainstorming on telemedicine, which would make it possible for Ghanaians to receive medical advice via their phone and other devices.
Coupled with the many interventions in providing health care and the impending roll-out of the National E-Pharmacy platform, this has truly set Ghana on the path to having one of Africa’s most digitalised health-care systems, the vice-president said.