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Google eases emergency care burden by mapping hospitals



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Kenyans will have an easier time accessing emergency medical care in 178 public health facilities across the country, thanks to Google Maps.

Emergency treatment, according to the African Federation for Emergency Medicine, is the provision of initial resuscitation, stabilisation, and treatment to critically ill and injured patients, and delivery of those patients to the best available definitive care, regardless of their ability to pay.

To improve access to these services, Google partnered with Emergency Medicine Kenya Foundation and the Health ministry, an initiative that has seen 113 public hospitals on roads without names given addresses on Google Maps.

They have also been given a free website through Google’s Plus Codes Project.

The mapped hospitals in all the 47 counties can be found in searches online for ’emergency centre near me’.

They all operate round-the-clock and have the capacity to carry out surgical, medical emergencies as they have functional theatres and other provisions.

“We are planning to bring about 220 public-, mission- and faith-based hospitals on board in all the 47 counties. We have mapped 178 hospitals in 41 counties so far. We will have [covered] the remaining six counties by the end of the year,” said Claude Blatter, the Africa lead for Google My Business.

“What this means is that Kenyans, regardless of where the emergency finds them, can ‘google’ ’emergency centre near me’. The map will direct you to the hospital near you within an hour so that you get help as fast as possible.”

In the past, challenges in accident emergency cases have included lack of information on the locations and services offered, as well as the unavailability of facilities’ phone numbers.

“For hospitals without directions or where roads are inaccessible, we have developed the plus code which when searched will locate them,” Mr Blatter said.

The service comes at a time when smartphone mobile penetration in Kenya has crossed the 50 percent population mark.

This was as at September 2018, when nearly 42 million Kenyans could access the internet using their mobile phones, according to the Communications Authority.

“The entry of more affordable smartphones and cheaper mobile data plans were the primary drivers of these trends,” Mr Blatter said.

“Last year between July and August, searches on Google for “emergency services” rose by 49 percent in Kenya, with 72 percent of the searches [being on] mobile devices and 25 percent on computers,” he said.

“These insights were an eye-opener on the importance of facilitating access to emergency information and services using our Search and Maps platforms. This is in line with our mission of making locally relevant information easily available online.”

Comparative data by the Google revealed that between March 2018 and March 2019, there was a 250 percent increase in total searches on Google Search and Maps for the 178 public health facilities, courtesy of the partnership.

In the same period, there was a 32 percent increase in visibility on Google Search of the mapped facilities, as well as a 38 percent increase in direction requests to public health facilities with emergency centres. 

In the same period, there was also a 177 per cent increase in the number of phone calls to the mapped public health facilities with emergency centres.

Dr Benjamin Wachira, an assistant professor of emergency medicine at Aga Khan University Hospital, Nairobi, says access to emergency medical services in Kenya has been a challenge with a significant number of patients dying due to wasting time searching for facilities and the services they offer.

“By making such information easily available online, it is expected that there will be a decline in the number of lives lost during the golden hour, which requires a patient to receive emergency care within the first hour in, so as to increase chances of survival,” said Dr Wachira who is also an emergency physician.

According to the World Bank, implementation of “effective, prioritised, timely emergency care can address 45 percent of deaths and 36 percent of disability in low and middle-income countries”.

“Any medical institution that fails to provide emergency medical treatment while having the ability to do so commits an offence and is liable upon conviction to a fine not exceeding Sh3 million,” it states.

Dr Wachira also spoke about Project 47, which ensures all counties have emergency centres, and why they approached Google Maps for help.

The project that began in May 2018 entailed identifying the facilities and their capacities by use of the World Health Organization’s tools of emergency and surgical care services.

“After mapping, we can know the locations of the facilities, populations and how many can access them within an hour. This makes things easier as patients are able to locate the facilities and be attended to as fast as possible,” he said.

Dr Wachira added that a majority of the hospitals did not have landline numbers so the project included installation of emergency lines which were added to the websites.

Dr Wachira said also they considered the average cost for emergency services in public hospitals.

Private facilities charge between Sh400,000 and Sh600,000 to admit a patient into the Intensive Care Unit, a cost many who need urgent care cannot afford.

“According to the Constitution, emergency care is free but one has to pay for the resources patients consume,” he said.

The hospitals should be able to handle surgical, laboratory and radiology.

Dr Wachira said many patients succumb to injuries due to lack of proper management but noted that more health workers were being trained on emergency care through Project 47.

“No patient dies because of lack of an ICU bed. They die because they lacked critical care from trained personnel,” he notes.

Currently, there are an estimated 200 emergency care nurses, about 1,000 emergency medical technicians and less than 15 emergency care doctors, many of whom are still undergoing training.

“This means that sometimes those in casualty departments may not be well-prepared. Even worse, one nurse might have to shuttle between two patients who need maximum care, compared with the international standard of one nurse to one patient for hourly monitoring.”

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