Preparing the Health Workforce will be key to Integrating Technology in Healthcare

As we look to strengthen Africa’s health systems using new and exciting technological advancements, it is essential that the continent’s health workforce is considered in the design and roll out of these technologies. The health workforce is one of the primary consumers of new technologies in health, therefore the success of the innovations is dependent on their buy-in and training. They are central to the success of these potentially groundbreaking and revolutionary innovations.

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Anti-epidemic robots in Rwanda, deployed in the fight against COVID-19.

Digital health is increasingly being employed to improve health systems and the efficient use of resources in Africa.  Technological innovations could make a significant impact on improving health outcomes by disrupting the current status quo. In order to fully integrate these technologies, benefit from new ways of providing health services, and to actually improve health outcomes, especially in the context of COVID-19 and future pandemics, priority must be placed on the input and buy-in of the health workforce.

Exciting examples of innovative technology in the healthcare sector, especially in the private sector, are widespread. Safaricom’s M-Tiba offers a health savings and payment platform, with over 4.5 million users across Africa. Huawei has developed an app that allows individuals to track their physical activity, encouraging a healthy lifestyle and other preventive health measures. Babylon , currently operating in the UK and Rwanda, has created an app that allows individuals to get feedback on their symptoms, speak with a doctor, and receive advice on how to prevent illness. And even on a more local, simplistic level, within health clinics and hospitals across the continent, digitisation and automation are being integrated into operational systems, from health records management to diagnostic tools.

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M-TIBA eases medical treatment by offering a platform to send, save and spend money on health.

There are three main reasons why health workers should be a priority when developing and implementing new technologies in healthcare. Health workers are a primary consumer of these innovations, they are the primary salespeople, and they are also the experts when it comes to what is needed and what will work best.

Health Workers are a Primary Consumer

Although patients and patient outcomes are (and should be) central when it comes to designing and implementing innovative health products, health workers are also a primary consumer that cannot be overlooked. Even in cases such as the preventative health apps mentioned previously, there is still the need for health worker buy-in for these tools, as they directly impact their work. A patient’s use of a health tool prior to coming to a clinic can have a significant impact (for better or worse) on the treatment that is offered by the health worker.
Health workers cannot simply be passive recipients of these new tools and systems.They need to believe in the benefits they offer. New technologies need to make their lives easier, rather than adding more complications. This will not only foster use of these technologies, but also
increase health worker satisfaction and retention.

Health Workers are the Primary Salespeople

Health workers are not only consumers of the products, they are also the technology’s best salespeople. They are the people face-to-face with patients, educating them and getting their buy-in. There is an increased probability of patients receiving the benefits of a technological
innovation if the health workforce adopts and believes in the efficacy of the product. If health workers are supportive, that gives patients the confidence and reassurance to fully accept anew and potentially intimidating way of doing things.

Health Workers are the Experts

Health workers’ position at the front lines of the health sector makes them well placed to understand factors that need to be considered in the development of new technologies. Health workers are best placed to know what their patients need to improve their health and what their
clinic or hospital needs to be more effective in their work. They have the technical knowledge as well as the on-the-ground, practical experience.

As we look to improve our health systems by taking advantage of new and exciting technological advancements, it is essential that we take these different factors into consideration. The health workforce is one of the primary consumers of new technologies in health. Success will be dependent on their buy-in and training. They are central to the success of these potentially groundbreaking and revolutionary innovations.