Rwanda's digital health revolution

Wednesday, 11 March, 2020

Rwanda's digital health revolution

Rwanda is set to undergo a digital health revolution following a 10-year partnership between the Rwandan government and digital health solutions provider Babyl (Babylon’s service in Rwanda).

The partnership’s digital-first approach will allow people over the age of 12 years to have a consultation with a doctor or nurse within minutes via their phone. Every consultation will be paid for through the government’s community-based health insurance scheme known as Mutuelle de Santé, which is managed by the Rwanda Social Security Board (RSSB).

Rwanda is reported to be the first country in the world to offer digital doctor appointments to almost everyone, helping to reduce queues and the need for travel. Prescriptions, lab requests and referrals will also be managed via the digital platform.

“We are delighted to have this partnership with Babyl, who will work alongside all our health institutions and RSSB to deliver this innovative digital healthcare service,” Rwanda’s Minister of Health, Dr Daniel Ngamije, said.

“Increasing access to our doctors will help stop self-diagnosis and self-medication, which lead to longer-term complications. With the reduced burden on health centres and other medical institutions, our medical professionals will be able to spend more time and resources on the most serious medical cases, further increasing the quality of healthcare delivery across the country.”

Medical staff will be aided by Babylon’s artificial intelligence-powered triage and symptom checker platform. An earlier service run by Babyl — launched in 2016 — already has over two million registered users. This service has delivered over one million consultations and is delivering 3000 more every day.

“The people of Rwanda are supportive of this country’s forward-thinking vision and 98% of patients say they recommend Babyl and will use it again,” Babyl Rwanda CEO Shivon Byamukama said.

“The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation helped us set up this service and enabled Rwanda to demonstrate what’s possible and sustainable — now Rwanda can show the world how health care should be done.”

How the digital service works
  • The patient books an appointment on their phone after a simple registration process.
  • A medical practitioner calls them back and takes them through a triage process that is further enhanced with an AI Triage and Symptom checker platform (this element is due to launch later in 2020).
  • Laboratory tests will be booked digitally, with results shared electronically with the Babyl doctor.
  • Prescription codes will be delivered via text message so the patient can collect their medication from pharmacies across Rwanda.

To ensure wide uptake, the system uses text messages and voice calls, even on phones with limited multimedia and internet capabilities. The changes will mean that patients will have more control over their own health, faster treatment and fewer trips to health facilities.

Babylon Founder and CEO Dr Ali Parsa said, “We are so proud to be helping make Rwanda a world leader in digital health, and so humbled that the Government of Rwanda chose Babylon to help its ambition to provide universal primary care to all its citizens. Rwanda is showing the world how we can sustainably tackle the challenges in health care, and make it accessible and affordable for all.”

The health service includes the creation of electronic medical records (EMR), which are expected to improve record keeping and information sharing, reduce duplication and lead to cost savings from improved health outcomes at patient and population levels.

Rwanda Development Board CEO Clare Akamanzi said that Babyl’s investment in Rwanda will contribute to the country’s National Strategy for Transformation, ensuring universal access to quality health care and establishing Rwanda as a globally competitive knowledge-based economy by reinforcing partnerships to build skills with practical applications in health.

RSSB Director General Regis Rugemanshuro said, “Digital health care is a significant step towards ensuring that all our members can conveniently access doctors without fear of loss of income or worry about travel to a medical institution. Early intervention with easier access to health care will also reduce the burden on our universal healthcare scheme.”

Image credit: © Babylon Health Rwanda

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