Revolutionising digital healthcare
Visiting a village in rural Ghana, pharmacist Elvin Blankson (Master of Public Health, 2010) noticed something missing. There was no pharmacy, or dispensary, of any kind. He asked the villagers how they treat stomach problems – and was shocked by the answer.
“We throw water onto the roof of a building, catch the water that dribbles down the building in a cup and drink it.”
Sparking a determination to bring modern medical advice to remote areas of his country, Elvin is poised to lead a revolution in digital healthcare with his innovative pharmacy app Go Pharma.
In a country where the pharmacy is the first point of call for almost everyone who falls ill, more than 70% of outlets do not employ a pharmacist. Compared to life in the UK, where 96% of the population are at most 20 minutes away from their local pharmacist, its clear access to healthcare in Ghana is a challenging issue.
“In rural Ghana, the presence of pharmacists is very limited,” explains Elvin. “Most dispensing outlets are licensed chemists, who are only allowed to dispense over-the-counter medication. But because of patient need, most of these chemists go ahead and procure and dispense prescription medication. In their bid to help, they put patients at risk because they do not have the required knowledge and expertise. Core patient care and safety issues are handled by untrained or partly trained people, which exposes patients to increasing potential harm from medications. A recent study in the British Medical Journal listed medication related errors as the third leading cause of death in the USA. Juxtapose that to rural Ghana and you can appreciate the challenge we’re facing. My degree focused on fixing the broader inequalities of health, viewing health-based interventions as tools which have a wide impact, not just on individual health outcomes but on the wider population. It’s with this thinking that Go Pharma was founded.”
Combining mobile technology with pharmaceutical expertise, Go Pharma connects pharmacists in towns with rural facilities and clinics. With a simple mobile phone, tablet or laptop, pharmacists can supervise operations in several locations in real time, offering patient consultations, prescription reviews, advice on medication orders and clinical interventions.
“Pharmacists are one of the few healthcare professionals able to perform a majority of their duties without physical contact with a patient,” said Elvin. “Technology now allows us to take a picture of a prescription, make the appropriate comments under it, and offer patient counselling, without being physically present. My experience in retail pharmacy over the last six years, where I’ve been able to consult with patients and supervise dispensing medication through my phone, made me realise there was an opportunity to leverage technology to broaden the effect pharmacists can have in our communities and bring access to pharmaceutical services for underserved populations.”
With huge potential to make a real difference for individuals and the wider population, Elvin has secured investment from global pharmaceuticals company Sandoz to implement Go Pharma across Ghana – and beyond. Taking part in the inaugural Sandoz Healthcare Access Challenge – an international competition which challenges young entrepreneurs to use mobile technology to widen access to health care in difficult environments – Go Pharma was one of three winners selected to receive €20,000 and ongoing mentorship to make their idea a reality.
“Winning the Sandoz prize will allow me to extend and expand the reach of the project. Sandoz have been amazing – they’ve provided extensive support and have a team coming out to Ghana soon to see the work we’re doing. To have such backing is a huge motivator and shows that we’re doing something right.
“My hope for Go Pharma is to fill the gap in healthcare access in both rural and urban areas. I believe a real gap exists in many places across the world, even in developed countries, and I want to solve problems wherever I find them. Technology makes the world a smaller place – and will help us save lives.”