Telemedicine Gains Pace In Kenya as KMPDC approves 20 Hospitals to roll out services amid Covid-19 containment measures

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about a lot of changes in several sectors not only in Kenya, but the world at large. It is no longer business as usual and the health sector has not been left behind.

When the first case of COVID-19 was reported in Kenya, the number of people going to health facilities to seek treatment dropped as Kenyans shunned hospitals due to fears of contracting the virus from the said institutions.

In line with KMPDC’s mandate of regulating the practice and licensing of medicine & dentistry and healthcare institutions in the country, the Council moved swiftly to respond to this growing concern by looking into ways of ensuring patients still got quality healthcare from their healthcare providers despite the prevailing circumstances.

To enable patients consult with their doctors virtually KMPDC commenced the issuance of provisional approvals for various registered and licensed health institutions to offer virtual medical services. So far, about 20 health facilities have received approvals from KMPDC to offer telemedicine services in the country.

The approvals only granted permission for the health facilities to offer virtual consultation health services. These approvals were subject to review every three months from date of issue. 

“The move by the Council to approve the facilities to offer telemedicine is a response to a growing need for the services due to physical distancing rules imposed by the government to curb the spread of COVID-19,” said KMPDC Ag. Corporation Secretary, Michael Onyango.

The Council has now taken it up not just as a COVID-19 mitigation measure but as a way of increasing access to healthcare in an effort to promote Universal Health Coverage and is now issuing annual licenses to health facilities to offer virtual consultation health services. Facilities receive licenses after satisfying the Council that telemedicine services offered are aligned to data protection and medical records regulations.

Even though Kenya currently is yet to enact laws regulating telemedicine, the Council developed e-Health guidelines back in 2019, and shared the same with the relevant government authorities for approval and subsequent gazettement.

“The rules will offer a base for the full roll out of telemedicine services in Kenya,” Onyango says.

According to the Centre for Disease Control (CDC), “telemedicine is the use of electronic information and telecommunication technology to get the health care you need while practicing social distancing.  All you need is a phone or device with the internet to continue your medical care while protecting yourself and your healthcare provider from COVID-19.”

Onyango however says only existing health facilities received approvals to offer the services.

“The facilities receive approvals after satisfying the Council that telemedicine services offered are aligned to data protection and medical records regulations,” he says.

Onyango adds that telemedicine services are “here to stay” after COVID-19 accelerated the adoption of technology in healthcare.

According to the Telemedicine Services Market Global Report 2020-30: COVID-19 Growth and Change “the global telemedicine services market is expected grow from $39.3 billion in 2019 to $48.3 billion in 2020 at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 23.0%. The growth is mainly due to the lockdown across countries owing to the COVID-19 outbreak and the preference for contactless medical services. The market is then expected to stabilize and reach $78.3 billion in 2023 at CAGR of 17.4%.”

In line with the anticipated growth, KMPDC has set up a regulatory framework for E-health in Kenya. Already, the Council has plans to review the Code of Conduct for medical and dental practitioners in a bid to align it to technology driven health services.

That is not without concerns. First, ensuring patient data security is a challenge due to the vast and boundless nature of the Internet, Onyango says. “But we are in the early stages of telemedicine. People may be skeptical but the regulator is ready for the shift in medical services.”

“Regulating the Internet is very difficult,” Onyango adds.

The proposed e-Health regulations, drafted in 2019, bar health service providers from hosting the platforms outside Kenya.

The draft regulations cover areas of virtual medicine, use of artificial intelligence in health and e-Learning including training of medical personnel and online based continuous professional development (CPD) points.

Further, the regulations address establishment of virtual medical facilities prescribing disciplinary measures for any form of misconduct.

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