Digital health is a broad term for technology that is used for medical purposes. It is a growing sector in Africa, with many different applications; one major example is the use of mobile phones in diagnosis.
MOBILE DIAGNOSES: CONNECTING WITH DOCTORS
There are now many apps available for mobile phones which allow people to connect with medical professionals. One example is Bisa Health, created by OASIS Websoft, a technology developer based in Ghana. This allows users to ask about a health issue, either in written or spoken form. Their message is sent off to a specialist, who will reply with advice within 24 hours. It is also possible for people to attach photos and videos to their messages.
One of the benefits of apps like Bisa Health is that people who don’t have direct access to a doctor can still address their medical needs. The private nature of the app also allows people to discuss problems that they may find embarrassing. For example, people may feel more comfortable asking questions about sexual health through the app, as opposed to in person.
MOBILE DIAGNOSES: ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE
Apps like Bisa Health rely on humans to answer questions. This means that responses take time, and employing these people can be costly. However, some companies have now developed apps that can use artificial intelligence instead.
Artificial intelligence is a developing area of computer science; it uses technology to perform tasks that would normally require humans. An example of an app that uses this technology is Ada, created by Ada Health.
This app asks the user a series of questions about their symptoms. The artificial intelligence system in the app analyses the answers, then returns advice and a diagnosis. There are huge benefits to apps such as Ada; patients get results quickly, and there is no need to employ humans to answer each query. It also means that the advice can be easily made available in a variety of languages. For example, Ada can now be used in Swahili.
THE FUTURE OF DIGITAL HEALTH IN AFRICA
Technology is already successfully being used in many areas to improve healthcare in both urban and rural environments. New ideas are being tested all the time – for example, in Nairobi and Mombasa, one initiative is using texts to send out surveys. The results of these help assess where the demand is for different medical supplies.
In countries with a short supply of doctors and minimal healthcare facilities, these developments could be invaluable in improving the overall health of the population.