The importance of access to timely, quality and affordable healthcare services cannot be overemphasized; it can literally be the difference between life and death.
Despite this well-known and overly-rehashed fact, it, unfortunately, is not a reality for many persons across the world; Ghana being no exception. From outright unavailability of healthcare facilities or required medical professionals, to the absence of medication or means of transportation, patients’ ability to access healthcare services is riddled with a number of challenges.
Cause for concern
According to the Tracking Universal Health Coverage: 2017 Global Monitoring Report, jointly published by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the World Bank, at least half of the world’s population lacks access to essential health services. The report further suggests that each year, large numbers of households are being pushed into poverty because they must pay for health care out of their own pockets.
“Currently, 800 million people spend at least 10 percent of their household budgets on health expenses for themselves, a sick child or other family member. For almost 100 million people these expenses are high enough to push them into extreme poverty, forcing them to survive on just US$1.90 (GH¢ 11) or less a day,” it adds.
Whilst these statistics are grim on the global scale, they are even more alarming in sub-Saharan Africa, especially in rural areas, where structural and cultural factors are worsening the quality of life of its residents.
Typically, persons in rural communities are more likely to have to travel long distances to access healthcare services, even for subspecialist services. This can place a significant burden on already scarce resources due to travel time, cost, as well as time away from the workplace.
In addition to these, the lack of reliable transportation remains a perennial barrier to care. In some areas, public transit is generally an option for patients to get to medical appointments; however, these transportation services are often lacking in less economically buoyant areas. Compounding this even further, these communities often have more elderly residents who have chronic conditions requiring multiple visits to outpatient healthcare facilities. This is not helped by high levels of illiteracy, especially health illiteracy.
These factors have led to delayed care, misdiagnosis and in some cases, death of infants, pregnant women, persons in the prime of their lives and the elderly by ailments which should otherwise be easy to identify and treat.
Healthcare you can Trust
Since its inception in 1992 and later with its full incorporation in 2010, the Trust Hospital has been at the forefront of leading access to quality healthcare at the most competitive prices in the country. Specialist care, which unfortunately hitherto has been beyond the means of many, is being rolled out progressively at the growing number of facilities.
Currently, services such as Ophthalmology, Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT), Dental and Physiotherapy, Obstetrics and Gynecology and Paediatrics are on offer at the hospitals and satellite clinics by class-leading professionals. The Trust Hospital has thus far applied a two-pronged approach to making quality healthcare more accessible – digital payment for services and the extension of niche services to all our facilities.
Top of the ills which have plagued Ghana’s healthcare delivery system, has not only been the need for out-of-pocket payments (OPPs) for services, but especially, the need to do so in cash. This has caused untold heartaches, and sometimes, needless fatalities for persons faced with emergencies.
Prior to the advent of COVID-19, the Trust Hospital, in true forward-thinking fashion, had begun to roll out a tailored, digital payment service. With the coming of the pandemic, with its ensuing need for social distancing and limiting of contact, this service has proven to be a stroke of genius.
This has in turn ensured that the unavailability of cash-in-hand, or lack of access to a physical health insurance card does not serve as a reason for delayed access to medical care.
Speaking on the reception to this innovative move and its impact for patients as well as the hospital’s finances, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) at the Trust Hospital, Dr. Juliana Oye Ameh says, “It has been well received and it is improving steadily… We have a lot of clients in some of the regions in Ghana and some of them do not have access to quality healthcare where they may be, so we are thinking beyond just the COVID-19 era, we are thinking of improving the accessibility to our clients in other regions spread across Ghana.
We are doing everything we can to sustain the interest as it is mutually beneficial,” she adds, whilst disclosing that usage of the service appreciated by as much as 700% during the height of the pandemic, and has hovered around 500% ever since, as compared to when it first launched.
With a rapidly increasing rate of internet penetration and mobile phone ownership, even in peri-urban and rural areas, this solution promises to revolutionise local healthcare delivery.
Whilst digital payment options are essential, they would be utterly useless if there were no services to pay for in the first place. Acutely aware of that, the Trust Hospital has not only provided a more secure and convenient means of paying for medical services, it is also extending access to these services.
In keeping with its belief that patients should ideally be able to conveniently and confidently access services such as primary care, dental care, behavioral health, emergency care, and public health services, the Trust Hospital has extended its class-leading dental services to prime areas, Dansoman and Tema.
Oral health affects physical and emotional health, and has many other influences over human lives that affect health and well-being, with economic implications such as gaining employment. Despite the importance of oral health, access to oral health services is either extremely limited or difficult to acquire in many rural and remote communities.
On the decision to focus on oral health, even as the pandemic continues to rage on, Dr. Oye Ameh revealed that the plan to expand these services predates the advent of COVID-19. She adds that despite often being overlooked, oral health has gained increased prominence, especially as it is crucial for general health and overall quality of life.
“We chose these locations based on statistics; where our clients come from, the population, the demographics of Tema and Dansoman. They are both industrial and commercial hubs, with a lot of working-class people who typically do not have enough time to access care at other facilities… they are at the two extreme ends of Accra, as well,” she says.
With quality dental health services few and far between, the Trust Hospital will be extending its dental and other specialist services to its other facilities.
More to come
Not one to rest on its laurels, the Trust Hospital will, in addition to expanding the aforementioned services, be looking to advance telemedicine. Telemedicine, which can briefly be described as the use of technology (computers, video, phone, messaging) by a medical professional to diagnose and treat patients in a remote location without an in-person visit, continues to be seen as a key solution to help address healthcare access issues, particularly outside city centers.
Through telemedicine solutions, patients can see specialists in a timely manner while staying in the comfort of their home or local facility. Off the back of the Hospital’s track record, this too would be healthcare delivery services you can Trust.