The healthcare sector, like many others, is set to undergo massive disruption as technology changes how healthcare services are delivered and who delivers them.
The International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) Global Commission on the Future of Work, calls for a human-centred approach to the future of work with a focus on investing in people’s capacity to transition into the 4th Industrial revolution (4IR).
Challenges and megatrends
The dominant megatrend impacting the healthcare sector is globalisation of services, underpinned by the effective leveraging of emerging technologies. The dominance of global pharmaceutical firms and other multinationals in the healthcare and wellness sectors will impact the future of work in Healthcare. This also provides an opportunity to address key challenges and introduce new ways of working that speak directly to the specific challenges we have in Africa.
According to the World Health Report, one of the key challenges on the continent is the low health worker to population ratio, currently at 2.3 per 1000 population (for all categories of health workers combined) compared to 18.9 for Europe and 24.8 for Americas. Africa is expected to experience a shortage of 6 million healthcare workers by 2030 says Intrahealth.org, further exacerbated by poor technology infrastructure and low digital maturity levels across the healthcare ecosystem.
The rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and other emerging technologies is at its early stages in the healthcare sector on the African continent. One of the overarching challenges across the continent is the fragmentation of health information, siloes and integration inefficiencies. This directly impacts the ability to capture the benefits from emerging technology solutions and partake in the fourth industrial revolution (4IR).
Healthcare roles of the future
As the speed of change happens, hospital management, local health authorities and government entities on the continent have to proactively plan how their workforce will evolve, otherwise they run the risk of not being able to deliver advanced, tech-driven care, improve patient outcomes. Additionally, they will be saddled with severely under skilled staff and be left behind by their global peers.
Based on the current digital maturity levels across Primary healthcare sector, Secondary, Tertiary, Pharmaceutical, Insurers, Laboratories, etc. and progress expected in the next 2 to 5 years, some of the new roles to be explored and created in Sub-Saharan Africa to address the shortage of professional healthcare work force include:
1. Health Data Scientist– As data scientists specialising in the healthcare sector, these professionals utilise their analytical skills, data analysis, knowledge of Machine Learning (ML), AI and Computational skills to provide insight to complex data sets, trends, patterns and develop predictive algorithms for AI solutions.
2. Healthcare Financial Advisers– Out of pocket payment in Africa tend to be quite high. As a case in point, in Nigeria, they are about 60%. Coupled with low levels of insurance coverage in the continent in general, there is an opportunity for roles that “source and advise” on the optimal payment plan (medical aid vs out of pocket vs health tourism) for consumers.
3. Digital Healthcare Content specialist– Health literacy is certainly a key issue for training of skilled health workers across the industry, as well as for the public which becomes more pronounced during health emergencies like outbreaks of diseases such as Ebola virus and the recent coronavirus. Dissemination of health information that informs the public of best practices is a game changer, especially if provided in the local languages across communities.
4. Digital Community Health Workers–The Community Health Worker is typically the first line of care in communities across Africa. They are active in addressing a myriad of patient needs, from collating health histories to administering tests as well as dispensing advice and medication. The introduction of the digital health community worker role therefore poses significant potential impact on maternal and childcare management and non-communicable disease (NCD) management. The role would form the entry point to managing health services at community level, enabling digitalisation from the onset. (refer to this article on The Hybrid workforce). The work of these individuals can be augmented by AI-Powered Chatbots and other specialist health mobile applications.
5. Virtual Health Referral Specialists– Telehealth and telemedicine offer a great job creation opportunity through the provision of tele monitoring services for patients in rural and remote areas, which would greatly bridge the fragmentation divide.
6. Medical IoT Specialist– The use of IoT devices such as wearable devices or smart beds that track vital health information, provide benefits for Patients, Physicians and Hospitals in a variety of ways. For instance they can be shared directly with the physician, including monitoring portable IoT assets using real time location systems. These devices are continuously being improved and new use cases being developed and introduced into the healthcare ecosystem. Meticulous Research predicts that the value of IoT in the sector will to reach $322.2 billion by 2025.
7. Health Informatics–This role entails the management and use of patient healthcare information, healthcare data and healthcare technology to improve healthcare services and healthcare systems. There are also sub-specialities such as clinician Informatics, computational health informatics with job opportunities in this area on the rise.
8. Medical Drone Route Planners and Pilots – In the US, Amazon the ecommerce giant is piloting the use of drones in the delivery of goods to customers. Drones are currently being used in Rwanda, to deliver medication and blood supplies to rural and remote areas. In South Africa, the South African National Blood Service (SANBS) also uses drones to deliver blood supplies to rural areas. For these flights to successfully take place, Drone pilots and logistics skills are required to coordinate and deliver complex health services for patients and people in areas with difficult access.
9. Digital Clinical Scribes– The Human-Automation hybrid is one of the most exciting opportunities to address long-standing challenges such as clinical notes documentation, where errors in collating notes have resulted in adverse outcomes for the patient. In such instances, augmenting human action, or totally replacing it with Intelligent tools will likely become standard. However, the need for this role is a critical entry point to the digitisation of healthcare and with the vast majority of clinical work being manually and paper driven, the rise for these skills will be required for a few years to come.
The way forward
The Healthcare sector in Africa will provide employment opportunities, economic growth and address inclusiveness from a socio-economic perspective. The future of work should be defined and lead by seasoned and experienced healthcare professionals with a focus on creating opportunities for the younger generation and positioning the continent for economic growth.
The challenge of readying today's workforce for tomorrow requires the collaborative input of health ministries, health departments, healthcare professionals, including Human Resources, training and development experts as well as a commitment of financial resources and learning paths to transition workers into new roles and functions. Policy makers also have a key role as issues of privacy, cyber-security, labour and management of data grow in urgency and complexity.
About the author: Joel Ugborogho is the Founder and CEO of CenHealth. A Digital Health Strategist, Emerging technology expert and international speaker. Connect with him on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/joel-ugborogho-84b9423/.
AUTHOR: Joel Ugborogho, Founder and CEO of CenHealth