Most of us know Dr Google.
The faceless but information-packed online platform that we consult as we try to identify the cause of a persistent headache, racing heart or a symptom in ourselves, our babies or someone else, before you actually go to hospital.
Such self-diagnosis on the internet has become a common activity and seemed to have peaked with the pandemic.
The rise of health apps and other platforms on the internet is making it easier for people to track their health at little to no cost. Statistics show more people in Africa use their mobile devices – with 41% of internet users using phones – to search for health information. This is according to a new study carried out in collaboration with Vodafone and Safaricom.
“In many ways, the pandemic has also opened our eyes to new possibilities in the healthcare space. Even as forward-thinking governments are driving formal digital health strategies, consumers are taking advantage of increased access to mobile connectivity by seeking out informal health services on their smartphones.
“The sharp increase in demand for these services also encourages new private players to enter the sector. Currently, there is an all-time high of 180 digital health start-ups in sub-Saharan Africa,” Says Shameel Joosub, CEO of Vodacom Group, that commissioned the study.
The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the use of digital health, a concept that has given birth to many solutions such as telemedicine, teleconsultation and digital health apps.
And with smartphone penetration in Africa forecast to reach 65% by 2025, the study says, the potential reach is more than 475 million users. But only 27% of these devices are 4G-enabled.
Digital health apps such as Byon8 in Kenya for instance, are on the rise and encourage people to adopt digital health tools as healthcare moves outside the doctor’s office. The app asks users questions based on their symptoms or medical history and then provides feedback that helps keep track of their health.
It also offers access to licensed online doctors who offer consultations every day from 8a.m to 11p.m.
While looking up health information is among reasons why people go online, healthcare providers have also devised ways for internet users to track their medical expenses.
On Apps such as BeWell, users can keep their medical records organized and use them for future reference. They can also store their health insurance records to check how much is left on their premiums, which benefits they are entitled to, which hospitals they can visit, verify their dependents details and read up on various topics that offer health tips.
All the hospitals they can visit using their health insurance are listed on the app.
Other platforms such as M-TIBA, which enable users to save small amounts of money for future healthcare needs, have connected four million Kenyans to 1,400 partner clinics and hospitals, including insurance companies, through the app or USSD code *253#.
The platform is a partnership between Safaricom, PharmAccess and CarePay – the technology company behind M-TIBA. It focuses on driving health inclusion through technology and access to quality, affordable healthcare.
The money stored on the M-TIBA wallet can only be used for healthcare purposes and transferred to either NHIF or registered healthcare providers.
With consumers increasingly becoming tech-savvy, digital health solutions such as AAR Insurance uses its mobile app to help customers access medical cover information.
With so much information available at the palm of people’s hands, there is a significant risk of being bombarded with misleading data.
It’s easy to be misinformed online, even for people who are knowledgeable enough to know whether the information they’ve found is relevant to their health condition and whether it’s taken out of context or not.
With so much information on Google and other sources, filtering all the information derived from a search can be tricky.
“Concerns range from privacy and the security of personal data to medical misinformation, which is a very real threat when it comes to social media. The report confirms that 69% of South Africans and 55% of Kenyans report that they’ve seen information that is false or untrue on social media,” the Vodacom study says.
Vodacom launched the e-health policy paper, the first of a series of papers that form part of Africa.connected Campaign to help drive digital inclusion in Africa. The vision behind the campaign is to help close the digital divide in Africa’s key economic sectors.
However, internet users can refer to reliable websites such as those sponsored by the government, large medical institutions, or professional societies for accurate information.