All Eyes on Africa; Let’s Talk Digitizing Healthcare

Flat World Partners
5 min readDec 23, 2021

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Like many frontier markets, healthcare across many African countries remains highly non-digitized. While developed economies might still struggle with affordability, the HealthTech transformation in the US has driven striking changes to how healthcare is delivered. The Digitization of patient records enables medical systems to provide much greater care with greater efficiency and accuracy, through a more interconnected approach for both patients and medical staff.

Africa makes up 16% of the world population and carries 23% of the global disease burden yet accounted for just 1% of total global health expenditures in 2015. These statistics highlight how big the opportunity is in the African healthcare market, the impact and benefit a digitized healthcare system could have to deliver care effectively and help manage infectious diseases, and the funding gap that currently exists. Over the next decade, Africa will need to spend billions on digitizing healthcare. One of the first steps in this process is the implementation of Electronic Health Records (EHR) — an electronic record of patient health information generated by one or more encounters in any care delivery setting, greatly automating and streamlining clinicians’ workflow.

Most healthcare systems across the African continent are still reliant on paper-based solutions and research estimates that only 10% of African health facilities use EHR systems. A stark contrast to the US, where 72.3% of physicians now use a certified EHR system. Despite this large disparity in penetration, there are several factors that could dramatically increase the adoption of healthcare solutions including EHRs across the world’s second-largest continent. Internet and smartphone penetration continue to grow in the region, encouraging a greater push for patients and clinicians to access information via smartphone — even leapfrogging the computer. For example, Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, now has an internet penetration of 59% and smartphone penetration of 32%. This dynamic is coupled with technology infrastructure moving to cloud-based services, enabling an easier pathway for the adoption and integration of software technology solutions.

Whilst Africa for the most part is decades behind developed markets in implementation, there are several key lessons that can be derived from the EHR adoption in other health systems. In the US there was — and still to this day is — a significant up-front cost required to purchase and install EHR, coupled with ongoing training and maintenance costs; and much of the US still runs on legacy infrastructure which is not cloud-native. Unlike developed markets, many emerging markets, simply cannot afford such expensive operating costs to roll out EHR systems.

Therefore, new digital healthcare infrastructure players coming to market need to prioritize and design, low-cost, hardware-lite — and inter-connective solutions to ensure a smooth rollout. Many frontier markets have fewer sunk technology costs (unlike the US) which gives the opportunity to adopt and rollout comprehensive and user-friendly tools. As such, the combination of these factors presents a great opportunity for Africa to swiftly catch up to developed markets with digitizing healthcare infrastructure, if not leapfrogging economies like the US.

The engagement of technology and data, driven by the influx of digital health solutions, is changing the landscape of how people access healthcare — the pandemic has stressed this more than ever across all countries. In order for countries to prosper in the world of Healthcare 2.0, they need to first ensure the right infrastructure is in place, and processes are still not reliant on paper-based solutions. There is a massive opportunity across Africa currently for local players to come to market with an innovative and verticalized EHR system.

Hamish Baillieu, Investor

African Healthcare markets is booming, thanks to the increase opportunities presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. HealthTech investment reached $106.7m USD in 2020, across 62 funding rounds. According to The Baobab Network.

Flat World are currently looking at a leading healthcare technology platform in Africa, providing healthcare providers and patients with an electronic medical record / hospital management information system, telemedicine platform, revenue cycle management software, public health management software, personal health records app, and healthcare financing solutions. Get in touch if you want to learn more.

Want to learn more about the healthcare challenges across Africa? Read Africa’s Health Challenges, Sovereignty, Mobility of People and Healthcare Governance by Andrew Cooper, Hany Besada, and John Kirton.

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