Developing countries, including Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), account for a large percentage of the global disease burden, e.g. Malaria, HIV, Tuberculosis, etc. 1 The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria claim approximately 3 million lives in SSA each year.2 This has further been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Accessing healthcare in SSA poses significant challenges such as the scarcity of healthcare facilities, particularly in remote and rural areas, the high cost of healthcare services, coupled with low-income levels, and the shortage of skilled healthcare professionals, including doctors and nurses.3
Access to quality healthcare and impact can significantly improve when decision-making is evidence-based, and trend projections are supported by quality data. The foundation for quality health data lies in data that is collected, managed, and used by medical professionals, and healthcare facilities and available for national databases and trend analysis. Digital health technologies, including Electronic Medical Records (EMRs) and Electronic Health Records (EHRs), enhance access to healthcare by facilitating quick and accurate retrieval of patient information, improving care coordination among healthcare providers, and reducing duplication of tests and procedures.4 Electronic records can also support telemedicine and remote healthcare services, enabling patients in remote or underserved areas to receive timely medical care and consultations from a distance, thus expanding access to healthcare services.
The use of EMRs/EHRs at healthcare facilities can significantly improve access to care, health outcomes, and quality of care. Providing patients access to their data and providing the ability to share it with a variety of medical professionals can significantly improve the quality and affordability of care. 5 It is the right of patients to own their medical data; here EMRs/EHRs play an enabling role.
Over the past decade, EMR/EHR systems have been gradually adopted in various countries across SSA to improve healthcare delivery, enhance data management and cost-effectiveness. The adoption and scale-up from paper-based systems to a digital system have not been without challenges which are but are not limited to challenges related to high costs, fragmentation, lack of guidelines and policies, patient data security, lack of standardization, patient inaccessibility, lack of trust at the user level, limited infrastructure plus lack of integration and interoperability.
In conclusion, an ideal EMR/EHR system tailored for SSA must prioritize a holistic approach that considers the region’s unique healthcare challenges and opportunities. By adhering to country-specific regulations, ensuring the flexibility of cloud-based data storage, offering multiple user interfaces, and promoting seamless data exchange, the system can cater to diverse healthcare settings and varying levels of digital literacy.
Moreover, its ability to support resource-constrained environments, facilitate system integration and interoperability and emphasize patient-centeredness and remote care capabilities can revolutionize healthcare access and delivery in the region. By addressing these essential aspects, stakeholders can lay the foundation for a technologically advanced, patient-centric, and efficient healthcare ecosystem in SSA. What this exactly looks like, differs per healthcare facility and disease contextual, cultural, and geographical situation; there is no one-size fits all solution.