Ordinarily, a Rwandan seeking specialized treatment abroad would go through a rigorous process.
Most of them go through agents of various international hospitals who will come with a markup price while others rely on friends and family abroad to get them appointments.
By most peoples' experience, this is usually time consuming and costly especially when a life is at stake.
However, a local startup Infinite Health International (iHi) Ltd has introduced an online medical booking and travel platform and is set to open about 10 offices across the continent beginning next year.
The firm is the sole representative of an online medical booking and travel platform in Africa, (www.bestinclasscare.com) and will act as a go-between patients and over 100 specialized healthcare providers across the world.
Once a patient is required to seek specialised treatment, the firm facilitates them to get options from its database of major centres of care both local and international.
With that, patients can compare prices and services which come at negotiated rates.
The firm also works with hotels and airlines across the world to facilitate bookings for patients at discounted rates.
According to Dr Richard Gakuba, the founder of Infinite Health International, once patients get on to the platform for medical referrals and select a hospital, medical consultations with the medical specialists kick off immediately through video conferencing and other secured avenues.
This ensures that the specialist has medical history and diagnosis of patients to have treatment of surgical procedures prepared as soon as possible.
Gakuba said that the service is a solution to a common challenge whereby patients often lack adequate information on where to access healthcare at affordable prices especially when they are diagnosed with complex cases.
"Patients have a problem knowing where to get the best healthcare services at an affordable price. Healthcare is expensive and patients need to make informed choices of where they should spend their money. Patients go through a daunting experience of medical travel. Best In Class Care has a team of trained concierge that helps patients through the entire experience of medical travel," he explained.
The platform can be used by patients covered by health insurance.
"We help insurance plans get the best value for the money that they pay to hospitals for providing care to their members. Health insurances through us are exposed to a large network of hospitals and they benefit from the negotiated rates," he added.
Rwanda's medical tourism ambitions
The platform will also see Rwanda's medical tourism ambitions realized as patients from across the world could get specialized care in local facilities that have been accredited.
Already, Dr Agarwal Eye hospital has been accredited to the platform while others like King Faisal Hospital and Rwanda Military Hospital could soon be added to the platform after completion of ongoing upgrades.
"We have already agreed terms with Dr Agarwal Eye Hospital. Specialized care is still growing in Rwanda but we believe there are a number of services such as eye care, fertility services, orthopedics and neurosurgery at King Faisal Hospital among others. Rwanda Military Hospital will soon open a world-class oncology center and that will be attracting patients from the region," Dr Gakuba said.
The government's recent move to revise the visa regime as well as increase the reach of national carrier, RwandAir could see an increase of patients into the country from all across the continent.
"The platform puts Rwandan hospitals on an international scene so they can serve more than just Rwandans. This will boost medical tourism for the country. Riding on existing government initiatives such as opening the country's borders to the world through the visa-waiver policy as well as the expanding RwandAir network," Gakuba said.
Local health practitioners and facilities are already warming up to the development with most mulling how to use the platform to refer their patients as well as get patients from the region.
Doctors say that with illnesses such as non-communicable diseases as well as other complex cases being on the rise, the platform could greatly improve the quality of care to patients.
King Faisal Hospital Chief Executive Dr Joaquin Bielsa told The New Times that he has experienced such a platform in Europe noting that it has an impact in reducing the cost of specialized care while at the same time improving quality of care.
He said that, King Faisal was looking to work with the platform in the near future to attract patients from all across the continent.
"We are going to work with them soon to make sure that some of our services are on this platform to attract patients from all across Africa. I am sure lots of people will be keen to travel to Rwanda especially given the tourism reputation," he said.
Dr Nathan Ruhamya, a physician at King Faisal Hospital said that it would ultimately improve the quality of care to patients.
The Permanent Secretary in the ministry of ICT, François Régis Gatarayiha told The New Times that the entrance of such firms into the economy justify the government's hefty investments in internet infrastructure.
"Services like this are what the government was aiming at when we invested in infrastructure. Platforms like this run over the infrastructure that was laid as well use the data centres,"
"This one is unique in that it consolidates health insurers, hospitals and players in medical tourism which has an impact of social economic development," he added.
Impact in other markets
Jeff Bohnson the Chief Executive of the global firm Best in Class Care told The New Times that the technology has had very positive reception in the American market and is widely viewed as a patient empowerment.