Continent-wide, the telehealth industry is experiencing substantial growth in Africa and radically changing the healthcare space on the continent.
In 2015, the African telemedicine market was valued at $18bn but by 2021, it would have grown into a $41bn industry. It is no doubt that this promising industry is becoming a lifesaver for people living in geographically challenged areas who, via ‘online doctor apps’ — internet-mediated user-friendly mobile applications—are beginning to enjoy medical care from the comfort of their homes and on their own schedule.
In Nigeria, with COVID-19 popularising the industry, there are still some challenges that need to be grappled with as telemedicine gains more ground in the country.
Topmost among the barriers of successfully utilising telemedicine optimally in Nigeria is the poor level of literacy among the general population. In Nigeria, the illiteracy level is still above 60% — much more than half of the population.
Besides, not all trained medical practitioners are tech-savvy enough to effectively engage in telemedicine. There will be a need for periodic continual training of medical practitioners preferably at regular intervals about this innovative use of technology in our localities.
It also goes without saying that since telehealth will be working based on the internet providers in the telecom industry, the issue of network failures by telecommunication networks will pose a major challenge. Nigerians have complained of dropped calls, non-delivery of SMS after being charged for them, and other network errors, often resulting in frustration. While the Nigeria Communication Commission (NCC) is putting a lot of guides in place to ensure the effectiveness and efficiency of telecommunication companies, time will tell how up-to-the-task they are.
Besides the aforementioned challenges, unstable financial support from the government is also a potential challenge given the high start-up cost of purchasing and maintaining functional gadgets needed for telehealth. While COVID-19 has forced the various tiers of government to buy into telehealth, authorised policies will further guarantee its sustainability and continuity in the public sector.
Other barriers electrical instability would need to be addressed as well as the importance of electric power cannot be over-emphasized considering the fact of the growing keen interest in adopting telemedicine among the general populace and government representatives. For mobile health to be successful, it has to be appropriately designed, implemented, supported and sustained by the stakeholders, especially the government, health care workers and the populace. Various studies have indicated that though there is general satisfaction with the experience of using telemedicine across the world, health professionals have concerns about the negative effect on the consultation, establishing the infrastructure and adopting telemedicine systems into existing organizational systems.