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Thursday, June 16, 2016

eHealth: Can ICTs bring the doctor closer to patients?

KWAMI AHIABENU 15 JUNE 2016

Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs), play an important role in improving healthcare delivery by providing new, innovative and efficient ways of connecting the patient to the doctor. They support quality care delivery by producing better data sets for information and knowledge management, assist in disease prevention and treatment; health monitoring,  diagnostic Information systems, supporting health system management processes including (planning, budget and financial functions) and supporting the emergency, ambulatory, organ donation systems as well as the disaster management systems and blood banks.

What is eHealth? 

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), eHealth is the use of ICT for health delivery including treating patients, conducting research, educating the health workforce, tracking diseases and monitoring public health. 

Telemedicine is a specific type of e-Health, where medical information exchanged from one site to another via electronic communications such as two-way video, email, smart phones and wireless devices, to improve a patient's clinical health status. Telemedicine enables healthcare professionals to evaluate, diagnose and treat patients in remote locations using the Internet. For instance, a doctor in Korle Bu can provide care to a patient in Navrongo through a two-way video communication system without travelling to Navrongo. 

eHealth enables doctors to access patients' medical records (including Lab test results) readily, and manage prescription processes seamlessly with pharmacists.  Some health facilities are now equipped with an electronic medical record which is a digital version of typical paper file system in use.  This means a doctor is able to access patients' record from a computer or other devices without going through an endless paper trail. This system means doctors cannot only share valuable information with their peers, but will also be able to improve on diagnosis accuracy and reduce errors. 

Today, telemedicine is a standard medical practice with a large number of countries making use of it. 

The Ghana Health Service District Health Planning and Reporting Tool (DiHPART), is an example of an ICT tool in use to assist district health management teams with planning, budgeting analysis and reporting. 

Another example of ICT application is the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), where there is automation of most of the health insurance services starting from registration where users are enrolled using a biometric system right through to managing claim processes. 

Since mobile phone usage in Ghana is on the rise, the use of Mobile technology in healthcare delivery in Ghana is important. An example is Mobile Technology for Community Health (MoTeCH), which provides pregnant women and their families with time specific information about the pregnancy each week in their own dialect as SMS or voice messages. 

Benefits of eHealth 

The deployment of eHealth comes with a lot of advantages such as: 

1. Patients in remote locations are able to access medical services quickly, efficiently and without travel costs.

2. More efficient use of limited number of doctors in the country who can "see" more patients in multiple locations wherever they are needed without leaving their facility.

3. Delivering high quality care without investment in building, facilities and staffing at remote locations. 

4. Allowing local practitioners to consult with their peers and with clinical experts when needed. 

5. Continuing medical education for health workers can take place without sacrificing time away from their patients. 

6. Provision of timely and secure information not only for medical staff but for patients as well. 

Challenges 

The implementing of ehealth comes with some challenges including the fact that it can be an expensive (running into millions of cedis because of poor telecommunication infrastructure and high costs of internet bandwidth). Also it can be time-consuming on the part of health professionals; distract caregivers from focusing on their primary role and can have disastrous outcomes if health workers are ICT illiterate and cannot manage security, privacy and confidentiality issues.  Further, a lack of policy guidelines or regulations with respect to patients electronic data interchanges and handling of individual identifiable information, undefined ownership of electronic data result in the risk of patients information getting stolen.

Conclusion 

In conclusion, information and communications technologies (ICTs), can help support Ghana's health delivery system. Evidence shows some progress made however, the country has a long way to go in ensuring that new digital technologies have wide reaching impact, in order for patients to receive high quality, cost- effective medical care. Though the country is making some headway with a number of projects, they are disjointed and not properly coordinated to achieve maximum results. 

The use of ICT in health delivery presents the country with new opportunities for accelerating progress in managing the health management information systems. 

This can be achieved by ensuring that right policies, laws and regulations are in place and are backed by a concrete implementation plan, supported by requisite investment and innovations. 

The writer is the Executive Director of Penplusbytes.org 


Tuesday, June 07, 2016

PenPlusBytes, BloggingGhana, caution Ghana's Inspector General of Police on social media ban

BloggingGhana, a membership-based grass-roots social media organisation, and PenPlusBytes, a non-profit organisation committed to enhancing governance by deepening citizens' participation through ICT, have expressed deep concern over the proposal of the Inspector General of Police (IGPs) to shut down social media platforms on election day.


"We share in the IGP's sentiments about the excesses and security concerns that might come with the use of social media. However, a ban on social media is not the solution and such a ban will be a breach of citizens' freedom of expression, a basic tenet of democracy,'' the group stated.
In a statement, the group cited Article 21(a) of Ghana's 1992 Constitution which grants all citizens "freedom of speech and expression, which shall include freedom of the press and other media."
Elections in Ghana, the group noted,  had largely been considered free and fair because of citizen and media participation. 
It pointed out that Ghana was a thriving democracy with a different context from Uganda, Niger and Turkey, who opted for social media blackouts in the past. 
A ban on social media is not a democratic practice, the group asserted.
It is the contention of BloggingGhana and PenPlusBytes that social media provides Ghanaians with a platform to participate in the monitoring of the election process in order to enhance transparency and national debate.

Instead of ban
"Instead of a ban, the Police Administration must do what other thriving democracies have done and get on social media platforms to inform and engage with citizens,'' the group underscored.
In Nigeria, the group said, the presence of the Nigerian Police,  the armed forces, the central bank, statistical service, the Independent National Electoral Commission and several ministries on social media provided Nigerians, as well as other nationals and the media, with a vital tool to verify claims in real time.
In 2012, Ghana's Electoral Commission released the election results on Facebook before it was formally declared by the Electoral Commissioner, the group pointed out.

Appreciation
While BloggingGhana and PenPlusBytes expressed appreciation to the IGP for his concerns about the abuse of social media, they expressed the belief that the  presence of the Ghana Police Service on all the popular social media platforms to communicate, monitor and engage  with the public would counter any false information. 
It stated that aside from promoting participatory democracy,  it had been demonstrated that social media, with the right strategy, had been an important interface between the police and the public and a significant crime-fighting tool.

Major challenge
The statement added that the major challenge for the police extracting intelligence from social media was the sheer volume of information, but they had the power to act on information found through social media when they have the right skills, tools and processes in place.
This would enhance their work of monitoring, public outreach, investigations, improved community relationships and management of volatile situations. The platform also gives the police an opportunity to provide the media and Ghanaians with credible information.
In fact, about 86 per cent of law enforcement departments globally report utilising social media in criminal investigations, according to the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), the group added.

To help prevent the abuse of social media, the group suggested that the police have to establish a conspicuous and engaging presence on all the platforms to deter would-be abusers. Also, the police have to release a statement informing the general public that they will be monitoring social media and that people are liable to prosecution for what they put out there.


For More information Contact
Precious Ankomah
precious.ankomah@penplusbytes.org
+233 241995737


http://www.graphic.com.gh/news/general-news/bloggingghana-penplusbytes-caution-igp-on-social-media-ban.html

Thursday, June 02, 2016

Understanding cloud computing

By Kwami Ahiabenu, II 

Computing was formerly linked to physical spaces. Today, everything is in the cloud. In those days, computer or server rooms usually housed huge computing devices.  With the advent of cloud computing, however, users can have access to momentous computing power without huge investment. Cloud computing is an internet-based computing which enables shared processing capacity, storage space, data, software, applications and other resources to computers and other devices on demand through the "clouds", which is a metaphor for the Internet. Cloud computing is similar to grid computing, which describes a situation where unused computing capacity in a network is harnessed to tackle problems too intensive for typical home or office computers. 
How does it work?
The main idea of cloud computing is to deliver traditional high-performance computing power, usually available to military, research or academic institutions, with the ability to perform tens of trillions of computations per second. To produce this type of huge power, cloud computing relies on the networks of large groups of servers with specialised connections to spread data-processing load across them. This system epitomises a shared information technology infrastructure, which is made up of large pools of systems that are connected. Frequently, virtualisation techniques, that is the creation of a virtual version of a server, storage device, network resources, operating system etc are used to amplify the power of cloud computing. Corporate institutions, governments and organisations working in all spheres of life and even individuals are now users of cloud computing all over the world. 
Types of Cloud computing
Based on a location, we can have four types, namely: Public, private, hybrid (private and public) and community cloud.  Public clouds, as the name suggests, are shared resources located on the premises of a cloud computing company delinked from end users' location. They do not have any control over it and there is a high vulnerability to attacks. 
Private clouds are networks solely used by one organisation. Though not shared by others, they can be located outside the premises of the said organisation. Private cloud provides the highest level of security and control. 
Hybrid cloud combines both private and public cloud. In one scenario, public cloud can be used to provide services to end users while confidential data are kept secure on private cloud. Community cloud connotes an infrastructure sharing situation between units of an organisation. For example, the Government of Ghana could run a community cloud for its ministries, departments and agencies which can be managed by an apex organ of government such as the National Information Technology Authority (NITA). 
In his book, Cloud Computing and SOA Convergence in Your Enterprise, David S. Linthicum describes a more granular classification on the basis of service provided, termed as follows:  Storage-as-a-service, Database-as-a-service, Information-as-a-service, Process-as-a-service, Application-as-a-service, Platform-as-a-service, Integration-as-a-service, Security-as-a-service Management/Governance-as-a-service, Testing-as-a-service and Infrastructure-as-a-service. However, in industry parlance, three types hold sway based on the services they provide, namely; Infrastructure as a service (IaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS) and Software as a service (SaaS).
 Infrastructure as a service (IaaS) involves offering hardware-related services using the principles of cloud computing such as database, disk storage or virtual servers. Flexiscale, Amazon S3, Rackspace and Cloud Servers are some of the industry's leading vendors in this area.
 On the other hand, Platform as a Service (PaaS) provides users with development platform on the cloud. Google Application Engine, Microsoft Azure, Salesforce.com are typical players in PaaS. 
Lastly, Software as a service (SaaS) provides users with complete software services on the cloud usually on pay-per-use basis. This is a popular and well-established sector with Salesforce.com pioneering online Customer Relationship Management (CRM) offering. Your typical online email providers like Google's Gmail and Microsoft's Hotmail, and Microsoft's BPOS (Business Productivity Online Standard Suite) or Google docs are examples of SaaS.
A number of companies are offering cloud-computing services in Ghana, making it easy for local organisations to take advantage of these services. Unreliable Internet means some organisations do not rely on cloud computing since they cannot access services when the Internet is down. 
Security concerns 
There is no 100 per cent  security guarantee on the Internet. A popular case is when iCloud, which is Apple's cloud computing and storage service with over 700 million users as of February 2016, suffered a security breach in 2014, where intimate photos of celebrities were stolen from their iCloud accounts, among others. (http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-29237469 ) Irrespective of this breach, Apple and other cloud computing services providers which are hosting a lot of sensitive content across the globe take security seriously and are constantly investing heavily to ensure the integrity of content stored on the clouds. 
Cloud computing offers a lot of advantages, especially for organisations that are not able to invest in the ownership of super computing resources in-house. 
The writer  is the Executive Director of Penplusbytes.org - you can follow him on twitter at www.twitter.com/kwamigh; WhatsApp: 0241995737.
- See more at: http://www.graphic.com.gh/features/opinion/64829-understanding-cloud-computing.html#sthash.OHp8mNlW.dpuf