Data must lead nation’s healthcare revolution – NMI CEO

If the nation is to attain its goal of revolutionizing its healthcare delivery system, particularly in light of the abruptness of the ongoing pandemic, the most critical factor, which will determine its success, is how well it manages data.

This is according to the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Nationwide Medical Insurance, Nancy Ampah, who believes that there must be an attitudinal change towards the purpose for which data is collected, how it is aggregated and organized.

“First of all, we need to understand the purpose for which we are collecting the data and that will inform how it will be collected and organized. Currently, we are sitting on a pile of health data as a country but the data sets are not integrated and that is due to the formats in which they are stored; largely on paper.

Emphasis must be on how it is collected, where it is stored, its integrity, security, its purpose, and perhaps, the biggest concern must be how the data is organized. With the data coming in from different sources, we need to address issues surrounding integration as well as data structure, quality, type and amenability to analysis and analytics, if we are to reap its benefits,” she said in a wide-ranging interview with the B&FT.

Stakeholders have touted the many benefits of transitioning to more advanced application of technology in healthcare delivery. In his most recent State of the Nation Address (SONA), President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, touched on the deployment and implementation of electronic medical record systems at key health facilities.

Despite these steps, statistics aggregator, Open Data Watch, in the 2020 edition of its Open Data Inventory (ODIN) report – which measures how complete a country’s statistical offerings are and whether their data meet international standards of openness – ranked Ghana as 143 of 187 countries.

In-house insight

She added that the company she heads now enrolls new customers digitally as well as issue electronic identification card; a move which she says had improved convenience for the firm, customers and health facilities as well as promoted transparency and driven down cost.

Adoption barriers

Addressing the most significant barriers to adoption and patronage of private health insurance, she suggested that our cultural and social structure, which is heavily reliant on support for each other, as well as religion and scare resources are some of the factors that discourage people from purchasing health insurance plans

“We need to understand our context better. Knowing that family, friends and the wider society will come to the aid of the ailing, there is little incentive to purchase health insurance, especially for a product, which some assume they might never get to use. Add that to barely-there disposable income and the general, albeit, erroneous assumptions about insurance, it becomes an even tougher sell,” she explained.

She however expressed optimism that with the heightened sense of health-awareness occasioned by the pandemic, more extensive sensitization campaigns as well as innovative products, the idea of health insurance will gain more traction.

Informal sector

She added that making in-roads into the informal sector had been an uphill task due to the lack of proper, well-defined structures. This, she noted, was propelled largely by unavailability of requisite technology, credible community data and address systems which made collection of premiums cumbersome and costly.

“The corporate space seems safer, in that, we deal with entities that are easy to locate and enroll and collect premiums from. In the informal sector, however, how do we locate subscribers and ensure that they pay their premiums consistently? The mode of collection can be very expensive. Coupled with some level of distrust, people are not too sure if their contributions are safe.”

Ms. Ampah however revealed that her outfit is moving into the informal sector and this move will be largely driven by technology and big data. Furthermore, she stated with the help of data analytics, various offerings [health insurance plans] could be made to various sections of the public.

“What is the incentive for someone who doesn’t have access to qualified medical practitioners to purchase insurance? We are going into telemedicine, which we believe will make it possible for specialists to consult with people in remote areas.”