In Summary
  • In the not-too-distant future, the first question a doctor will ask you is: What is in your digital health wallet?
  • Storing a patient's medical information digitally is the future of healthcare.
  • It is a lot easier to intervene when the doctor knows the patient's medical history than when he doesn't.
  • Such technologies are an important part of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s agenda for affordable healthcare in the country.

In the not-too-distant future, the first question a doctor will ask you is: What is in your digital health wallet? Here is why.

Charles Bengo (not his real name), a 65-year-old farmer experienced some back pain and went to see a doctor at his nearby rural health clinic. The doctor gave him some paracetamol to treat his pain.

After a few weeks, he was back at the clinic, since the pain had not gone away. The doctor gave him a prescription to get a stronger painkiller containing codeine.

This too did not help much. He decided to go to a Level Five hospital where all manner of tests were done. Doctors here recommended that he exercise his spinal column while taking the painkillers he had been given earlier.

Four years since the pain started, he still was not doing well. His children brought him to the National Referral Hospital where it was established that he had renal cell carcinoma.

The doctors recommended surgery to remove what they called a small tumour. Surgery gave him a temporary reprieve before the pain came again. This time the family decided to transfer their father to India.

In India, several tests were done including some that were done at their Level Five hospital and at their National Referral Hospital. It was established that cancer had spread to other parts of the body.

The doctors recommended chemotherapy and several other medications. These interventions had other complications.


Mr Bengo lost his six-year battle early this year, leaving his family next to destitute after his ailments depleted their resources. There are many lessons to learn from his experience.

The first is the fact that the family could have managed his health record better to avoid duplications of tests at every level of treatment and to provide a consistent view of his medical history.

Like Bengo’s family, many families do not have the capacity to manage all their health records and as a result escalating the cost of healthcare.

In some cases, it is even worse when doctors have no visibility of the patient history to know what to avoid or recommend for the patient. This could change.

In their paper, Enabling Care Continuity using a Digital Health Wallet, Samuel Osebe, Charles Wachira, Fiona Matu, Nelson Bore, David Kaguma, Juliet Mutahi, William Ogallo, Celia Cintas, Sekou Remy, Aisha Walcott, and Komminist Weldemariam, all from IBM Research Africa, report their preliminary findings on how to best manage patient health records to improve health outcomes in a digital economy.

The team developed and tested the Digital Health Wallet (DHW) using blockchain (a distributed ledger system) that allows the patients to manage their data across separate health facilities and systems, and enables care providers to have a holistic view of the patient at all time.

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