Health+Tech | Technology facilitating universal health coverage
The recent Caribbean Conference on Healthcare Financing, held in Antigua, has placed the discussion of universal health coverage and health financing squarely on the table of Caribbean countries again, but this time with more emphasis on the role technology can play to facilitate this process.
This is a much-welcomed approach as the power of technology to fuel the development of the healthcare sector has been long discussed but slow to implement.
Health financing is a major prong within the care system that will help to facilitate universal access. Health insurance is the number one way in which we currently finance healthcare, both public and private. In fact, a few years ago, the Government put forward plans to implement a National Health Insurance Plan that would be managed through the National Health Fund – an important move towards universal access to healthcare. It means, therefore, that if the Caribbean as a collective can improve this process, we will be taking important steps towards universal access, regionally.
Currently, Jamaica is ahead of most countries where processing health claims is concerned. We are one of few that have online, real-time, electronic-claims processing. The advantages of that are many and include increased efficiency and cost saving, immediate-claims settlement, better service delivery for patients and improved ability to plan and finance the medical practice and hospital.
If we truly want the health integrations we desire as a united Caribbean, countries must look to start by implementing electronic claims processing with interoperability or via the same system that can work for everyone. Once we have achieved this, then we already have at least one way to finance health effectively outside of the other methods including taxation, government funding, and the least desirable – out of pocket payments. All of these are currently being employed throughout the health sector. We can now look at implementing the other necessary inputs needed for universal coverage.
This is where the technology comes in. Two important factors, of the many objectives of universal health coverage, are to ensure that the entire population has access to health services and that they can do so without being financially compromised.
The right combination of funding mechanisms will ensure the latter, while the integration of technology in every aspect of healthcare will ensure the former. Apart from improved healthcare access, technology in health can also result in increased efficiency of operations via automation, improved data management and decision support, improved diagnosis and treatment, fraud reduction/elimination, and cost reduction.
Technology can create a health system that is responsive to the needs of the population and sensitive to the environment in which it serves.
A study entitled Technology and Universal Health Coverage: Examining the Role of Digital Health, done by Wilson, Sheikh, Gorgens, Ward, and the World Bank and published in November 2021 in the Journal of Global Health, indicated that “the health sector, by its very nature of being data intensive, lends itself to the use of technology for analytics to improve health outcomes, respond to public-health crises, and efficiently and equitably allocate resources.”
This is precisely what we need for a system in which the focus will be on the overall health of every member of the population in a holistic way and not just on treating diseases. The data will also help us to plan and forecast public-health events. In this regard, an integrated Caribbean health network would be ideal, where support and resource sharing would benefit each country given our small and vulnerable economies.
“In addition to supporting good health and well-being, universal health coverage also contributes to social inclusion, gender equality, poverty eradication, economic growth, and human dignity.” – World Health Statistics 2022 – Monitoring Health for the [SDGs], Sustainable Development Goals, World Bank. Technology can be used to make this a reality.
We already have the tools necessary to achieve this in every aspect of care. The electronic medical practice systems currently being used in Jamaica include medical, dental, optical, pharmacy, radiology, diagnostics, lab, telemedicine, and electronic prescription.
Most of these are already linked through the insurance system. This means that we possess the various linkages on the healthcare chain that can ‘talk’ to each other to enable a comprehensive system that can be used throughout the Caribbean.