MADRID, Spain — Healthcare information systems in most developing countries are still analog and inaccurate. Ethiopia is not an exception to this rule. Ethiopian health institutions of almost all levels use a manual, paper-based patient management system for services such as patient record-keeping and health information exchange. In a country with a population of more than 115 million, this outdated system has made delivering high-quality healthcare a big challenge. This rings true especially in remote areas of the country.
Manual Health Information Systems (HIS)
Health information systems are any systems that capture, store, manage or transmit information related to the health of individuals or an organization’s activities related to the health sector. Overall, a well-functioning HIS is essential for sound decision-making and providing the public with an effective healthcare system. This kind of paper-based system, currently used in Ethiopia, is incredibly tedious both for the patient and the hospital’s health workers.
The main problems associated with this manual system are as follows.
- There is limited storage space for the cards.
- The system is insecure. Unauthorized personnel can access any medical card and vital information about the patient since they are not filed securely.
- It is time-consuming. Completing these forms wastes time that patients could need. Also, the “card needs to pass from the clerk to the doctor and then to the dispensatory.”
Additional problems remain today. These include redundant information, lost patient data, human errors, limited capacity to include relevant information and having to schedule appointments for patients that live in remote areas and need to travel hundreds of kilometers to get to the medical center. These problems have significantly impacted the quality of local healthcare and the development of the health sector in Ethiopia. They have also hindered the country’s path to adopting technology for its healthcare facilities applications.
Then, Dr. Wuleta Lemma came onto the scene. After obtaining her “degrees in medicine, epidemiology and international health” in the U.S., she returned home to Ethiopia. She found that the healthcare information systems in her country were still disjointed and out-of-date. Disturbed by the situation, she decided to design something, which was how TenaCare was born.
The Work of TenaCare
“TenaCare is a series of national eHealth and mHealth applications” consisting of an electronic medical record system, a health management information and Disease Surveillance System and an analytics dashboard that work together to improve health service’s delivery quality. This new digital health system permits healthcare facilities to capture, store, analyze and communicate patient information in digital form.
Additionally, health personnel can access real-time data, which allows them to make better, faster and evidence-based decisions. Successfully, TenaCare has developed an Electronic Medical Record System (EMR) ready to leave the paper-based system behind and provide automated abstract registers and other statistical analytics reports that will allow Big Data Analysis, saving countless minutes and assisting medical facilities in enhancing and measuring clinical service quality.
Most importantly, TenaCare functions on and offline. This makes the system accessible for both urban and rural hospitals, ensuring that even the remotest of clinics without permanent access to the internet will be able to profit from the applications. In the words of Dr. Wuleta, her priority with rolling out this solution has been “getting it into rural, last-mile clinics.” Her main goal is to make sure all citizens in Ethiopia have adequate healthcare access. Thus, the medical clinics can collect patient data even offline. Once they come back online, “the information will sync up with the central database” and generate medical reports.
What Made It Possible
One thing that made TenaCare possible was cooperation with partners. The Tulane University Centre for Global Health Equity (CGHE) created the suite system, for instance. Tulane notably “supports local colleges and universities.” It trains thousands of students in the field of health information and plays a meaningful role in enhancing local capacity for IT innovation capable of transforming Ethiopia.
Moreover, the technology behind TenaCare was developed in partnership with Microsoft’s 4Africa initiative. The initiative aims to unlock and accelerate Africa’s potential to create technology for the continent and the whole world. Nevertheless, Dr. Wuleta has made it very clear that she intends to keep TenaCare entirely locally managed. So far, she has accomplished her wishes in ensuring a 100% locally run system. TenaCare is “currently being used in 3,000 facilities across 10 regions in Ethiopia.” It “processes more than 150 million healthcare records.”
Improving Healthcare Globally
Now, it is time for TenaCare to take on the world, which should be easier thanks to an increasingly connected Africa. Healthtech is booming across the continent. Startups like TenaCare use tech-based solutions to tackle the challenges in delivering high-quality healthcare to everybody, including resource-deprived areas. With TenaCare, communication between doctors and patients is more efficient, information is more reliable, easy, fast and accurate. While Dr. Wuleta acknowledges her vision has not yet reached 100%, she is confident about TenaCare’s potential to address the needs of her home country’s population.
Undoubtedly, the successful implementation of the system so far proves what a significant impact her initiative has had on the quality of local and digital healthcare in Ethiopia. In fact, If TenaCare has made anything clear is that supporting the growth of an inclusive health tech sector that addresses wider public health issues is critical for the future.
– Alejandra del Carmen Jimeno