In 2004, 5334 physicians from sub – Saharan Africa made their way to the USA, in search of greener pastures°. Most medical health personnel who leave their countries ‘to further their careers, or improve their economic or social situation’ leads to a global health labour force ‘imbalances that may be detrimental to the health systems of source countries.’ It has to be noted that this ‘brain drain’ occurs on the backdrop of the home countries having invested millions of dollars into educating the very graduates who then take their skills abroad. The fact that some countries such as Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia or Swaziland actually have no medical schools to provide the growing need for doctors does little to help the situation. There are no winners in the process unfortunately as most who undertake medical studies usually do so stemming from a passion to serve their communities and effect positive change in their countries. To then turn their backs on all their passions and motivations for unknown lands and prospects is not the most desirable option either.
One challenge that has persistently afflicted the medical practice in Africa, particularly in public hospitals and clinics, relates to bureaucracy and administrative inefficiencies. Hospital policy and infrastructure in most Sub – Saharan Africa was established during colonial times. Ministries responsible for health and welfare operate on frameworks that predate the countries they serve. This means that when one visits a hospital, long queues, paper based document keeping, and old equipment are all part of the process. This makes for an unattractive working environment for most practitioners.
Over and above job enrichment, old – fashioned hospital systems and procedures are still based on inclusive policies that are reminiscent of post – independence populist movements. All this marginalizes the practitioner and fails to address both the work environment as well as operational efficiency. Integrating technology in the medical process could be an answer to some of these issues. Cloud based software has long been used as an enterprise solution for document management and storage. This could lower the wage bill of practices and ensure patient data is not lost or misplaced. Implementation of such solutions can also offer effective communication channels across practitioners and medical administrative offices.
A primary motivation for getting into any career is the monetary aspect. Investment in education, more so medical school, is prohibitively expensive and out of the reach of most. In some cases students make it through school by way of government bursaries and grants. This puts added pressure to clinch well paying jobs upon graduation as these loans have to be paid back. As a result, junior doctors often shun working in their local hospitals which often pay paltry salaries on the back of an immense workload. The allure of foreign postings, earning hard currencies presents itself as a viable option. While it may be a challenge to try and compete with the pay scale of doctors in ‘developed economies’ , Southern African countries can do a lot to make practitioners’ remuneration more attractive. Telemedicine for instance, has been proven to improve the profitability of medical practices in various parts of the world. A big advantage of employing this innovation is the reduction of appointment cancellations and no shows. Because patients sometimes have pressing schedules at work, school or otherwise, enabling them to consult from a distance makes visiting the doctor’s office easier. By allowing doctors to attend to more patients practices can increase their monthly earnings.
There are numerous ways in which doctors and medical practices in Africa can integrate technology into their systems. This can have tremendous benefits for both profitability and the reach of medical operators. In the next article, focus will be placed on the benefits of telemedicine to the doctor, hopefully making the prospects of working in their local facilities more attractive. As we look to positively contribute towards the health and welfare of patients it is integral to hear others opinions and alternate points of view. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook and let us know what you think state of health where you are and your thoughts on the future.