Nairobi — The Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentist Council (KMPDC) has commenced the issuance of licenses for various registered and licensed health institutions to offer telemedicine services in the country.
Last year, KMPDC issued provisional approvals for 20 health facilities registered and licensed by the Council, to offer the services.
This year, the Council has further increased the scope to give annual licenses to registered and licensed health facilities that want to offer virtual health services.
The prior 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 issue licenses to 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 acting 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.
Even though Kenya is yet to enact laws regulating telemedicine, the Council developed E-Health guidelines 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 rollout of telemedicine services in Kenya," Onyango said.
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."
COVID-19 has led to the increase in the adoption of technology in healthcare services.
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%."
However, despite the significant investments made, many of these e-health solutions have yet to prove their success. Interoperability and security of e-health systems are cited as some of the challenges in usage of the systems
"Regulating the internet is very difficult which is not without concerns. First, ensuring patient data security is a challenge due to the vast and boundless nature of the Internet, Onyango stated. "But we are in the early stages of telemedicine. People may be skeptical but the regulator is ready for the shift in medical services."
According to the KMPDC, 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 the establishment of virtual medical facilities prescribing disciplinary measures for any form of misconduct.
In line with the anticipated growth, KMPDC has set up a regulatory framework for E-health in Kenya with plans to review the Code of Conduct for medical and dental practitioners in to align it to technology-driven health services.