Harnessing Technology to Increase Access to Quality Healthcare

0

In this interview with Rebecca Ejifoma, the Chief Medical Officer at Evercare Hospital Lekki, Dr. Ayo Shonibare who is a consultant Urologist and Kidney Transplant Surgeon with over 30 years of experience, speaks extensively ahead of the unveiling of Evercare Hospital Lekki as well as its recently launched telemedicine platform, Ecare. Excerpts:

As the newly appointed Chief Medical Officer of Evercare Hospital Lekki, tell us more about the hospital?

Evercare Group (‘Evercare’) is an integrated healthcare delivery platform operating in emerging markets across Africa and South Asia, including India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Kenya, and Nigeria. Evercare’s goal is to help communities thrive by improving healthcare and leveraging technology and integration to increase the quality of care.
Our portfolio includes 30 hospitals, 16 clinics, over 50 diagnostics centers, and two brownfield assets. Evercare is wholly owned by the Evercare Health Fund, a US$ 1 billion emerging markets healthcare fund managed by The Rise Fund -the impact investment platform of global alternative asset manager, TPG Capital. With a team of over 10,500 employees including over 1,000 doctors, over 3,200 nurses and 5,300 paramedical and support personnel, Evercare is building a foundation of continuous quality improvement and standardised care to improve clinical outcomes and patient safety. Our investment in a community of diverse, qualified, and service-driven individuals enable the provision of the best quality and affordable care to patients.

With ongoing operations in other African countries, what informed the decision to introduce your expertise in healthcare service delivery to the Nigerian market?

Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa and the sixth most populous country in the world – counting over 200 million occupants. Whilst we have made headway over the last few years, there is still a need for significant advancement in Nigeria’s healthcare system to enable adequate provision of services required to serve the needs of its population. This has led to a rise in the percentage of medical tourism done by Nigerians i.e. people seeking healthcare and treatment overseas. It is estimated that Nigeria loses about $1.3 billion to medical tourism yearly and experts say that this could be invested in the development of the country’s healthcare system and the nation as a whole. Thus, it has become paramount to not only restore but advance the health sector for the medical tourism trend to be curbed. Prospects for this has created an opportunity for stakeholders like Evercare to intervene and aid the healthcare industry with its investment.
Following Kenya, Nigeria is the second healthcare investment destination, for the Evercare Global Health Fund as our objective at Evercare is to provide the required integrated healthcare services to markets that it is essential to. Evercare Hospital Lekki is an illustration of that strategy put into practice, bringing a vital suite of services to patients across the region thereby elevating the standard of healthcare.

With plans in place to officially unveil Evercare Hospital in Nigeria, there are reports stating that you have launched a Telemedicine platform, “Ecare”. Tell us more about this service.
With the emergence of new technologies in recent years, telemedicine has become more prevalent and essential in healthcare service delivery. Telemedicine is the practice of remote consultation and treatment of patients using telecommunications technology. Our Ecare is a telemedicine platform offering tele and video consultations with our general practitioners and Specialist Doctors within several Medical fields.
Being a first-of-its kind in Nigeria, this innovative platform brings about a transformation in the Outpatient consultation model as Clinicians are able to reach out to their patients remotely, via a video conferencing tool to address their healthcare needs efficiently. Patients are able to book appointments and access their doctors easily from the comfort of their homes.

What was Evercare’s motivation for offering Ecare to Nigerians?
Telemedicine has become one of the dominant forces redefining the healthcare and wellness industries globally – both for patients and healthcare providers. Our increasing population in Nigeria and the desire for accessible quality care have created a high demand for healthcare services and huge market prospects for telemedicine to thrive.
Evercare Hospital Lekki recently launched this telemedicine initiative, out of the need to guarantee access to premium healthcare services for Nigerians irrespective of their physical location. Although, the current realities placed by the global COVID-19 pandemic has increased the need for telemedicine intervention as patients have become more reluctant to visit hospitals due to the fear of exposure to the virus; Ecare is a strategic long term initiative with goals to serve the market beyond the pandemic.
At Evercare Hospital Lekki, it is our mission to relentlessly innovate to ensure delivery of best-in-class standards of patient safety, clinical excellence, and outstanding clinical outcomes. The introduction of our Ecare is a testament to this.

What areas of medical consultancy are featured on the Ecare platform?
As I pointed out earlier, our goal is for patients to have access to specialists across all their needs. The Ecare enables reach to several consultants in different areas of medicine such as General and Family Medicine, Neurology, Nephrology, Neonatology, Pediatrics, Urology, Obstetrics and Gynecology, Radiology, Neurosurgery, Cardiology, Orthopedics, Pediatric Surgery, and General Surgery.
Essentially, a patient can receive multi-disciplinary care, under one platform.

What are your thoughts on the benefits of telemedicine?
Telemedicine presents numerous advantages to both patients and health providers. A unique element about the practice of telemedicine is that it greatly increases access to healthcare. The increased accessibility afforded by telemedicine helps to level the playing field, allowing a greater number of people to have access to frequent and expansive healthcare. This is especially valuable in developing countries like Nigeria, as well as for patients who require specialised services or who otherwise face difficulty in physically visiting a hospital for medical care. Telemedicine is also financially favorable to patients as costs typically associated with in-person appointments are greatly reduced. It provides patients with the confidence of being able to access their clinician in their time of need and aids patient engagement which allows continuity of care. More importantly in Nigeria, telemedicine has the potential to boost access to quality healthcare delivery across each region so that everyone, regardless of their location, can be provided parallel quality healthcare services.

Being one of the few hospitals providing telemedicine services, what differentiates Evercare’s Ecare from the others?
Ecare distinguishes itself as the first proper hospital operator based telemedicine platform designed to offer the entire value chain under one platform – consultation and diagnostics, all the way to prescriptions and lab referrals. Also, standing out from other telemedicine providers, Ecare provides access to a wide range of specialists across different areas of medicine (multidisciplinary care) under one platform.
Additionally, Ecare has a two-way add-on feature that allows the patient to invite a family member or friend on the consultation and at the same time permits the Clinician to invite a colleague in case of a multi-disciplinary or complicated consultation. It also provides the flexibility of choosing the specialty or Specialist and the preferred appointment time.
Under the Ecare platform, patients can upload their laboratory test and imaging results which can be viewed by the consultant prior to or during consultation. It provides an end to end service to the patient with drug prescriptions and laboratory referrals if required and is modeled in such a way that it costs less than a physical visit, giving better value to our patients.
Furthermore, we have leveraged technology to ensure excellent delivery of premium healthcare via the Ecare platform. The Ecare platform is embedded into Evercare’s website which integrates collaborative communication seamlessly, enabling efficient and more convenient models of service delivery. This allows patients to schedule appointments, process payments, manage existing Doctors, and access e-care services via mobile and desktops with no installation or app download required. Also, the platform is completely end-to-end encrypted, meaning patient’s information cannot be accessed by any intermediaries, ensuring a private and secure experience for Evercare’s patients.

Reports state that Evercare is set to unveil its new Multi-Specialist Hospital in Nigeria. When will the Hospital be fully operational and what standard of healthcare services should Nigerians expect to receive?
Evercare Hospital Lekki is a first of its kind facility in Nigeria – a 165-bed state-of-the-art multispecialty, tertiary care hospital, that will deliver high quality, and accessible healthcare to communities in Lagos and Nigeria at large. Evercare Hospital Lekki will offer care across a range of specialty medical and surgical services. Our priority is to build Centers of Excellence in the following fields including Neurosciences, Cardiac Sciences, Orthopedics, Mother & Child Care and Emergency & Trauma.
The Hospital is set to be fully operational in Lekki Lagos in Q4 2020 and will deliver medical excellence & global standard of quality service by providing exceptional patient care through outstanding medical outcomes and high-quality nursing care that Nigerians seek.

In your opinion, how can the healthcare industry leverage technology to improve the quality of healthcare delivery in Nigeria?
The global health landscape is changing radically as breakthrough technologies are driving fundamental change in healthcare delivery. There is the need for a massive shift in the delivery of health services underpinned by the right levels of investment in technology while ensuring the patients are at the center of the delivery model. Our Ecare telemedicine platform is a brilliant example of this strategy put into place.
Leveraging technology through telemedicine, all Nigerians, wherever they are located, now have access to premium care as access to good quality healthcare services should not be limited by location and availability within certain geographical areas. Technology allows patients, doctors and stakeholders in the healthcare industry reap the immense benefits of telemedicine.
Technology also has a role to play in maternal and infant health. Patients who normally may not have access to antenatal care can also be monitored remotely to ensure better results for both mother and child. Also, there are now several home monitoring devices that can be used remotely to help doctors predict conditions that are critical by monitoring identified high risk patients remotely. This will help reduce fatalities in patients through warning signals, to initiate transfer to higher level of care in the hospital setting.
We will continue to focus of driving groundbreaking innovations across the Nigerian healthcare industry as digital technologies are the enablers of transformation and Evercare is determined to drive that transformation.

What areas of clinical operations are lacking in terms of improving patient healthcare and how does Evercare plan to bridge this gap?
The rise of non-communicable diseases and the prevalent increase of communicable diseases coupled with the population in Nigeria has led to a lackluster scenario. We are now witnessing greater number of cases with cancers, heart disease, diabetes complications and kidney failure. These cases necessitate advanced tertiary care, utilizing extremely sophisticated medical equipment and highly skilled medical personnel. As part of our expansion plan, we aim to fill some of these gaps and build on additional service lines. We will not only focus on a robust preventive health plan but also champion screening programs and expedite early diagnosis and treatment to achieve positive outcomes. There is the need to transit from “sick care” to “health care”, to improve patient health.

With over 30 years of experience in the healthcare sector locally and internationally, what are you looking forward to as the Chief Medical Officer of Evercare Hospital Lekki?
In my opinion, Nigerians have a desire for quality healthcare services with excellent clinical outcomes that they deserve. The intention is to create a patient-centric culture, with strict adherence to protocols, patient safety, high standards of nursing care and all quality indicator measures. As the Chief Medical Officer of Evercare Hospital Lekki my aim is to provide the clinical leadership and meet those aspirations while ensuring a collaborative approach to care.