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InstantRad Leading the Path for the Future of Teleradiology in Africa

InstantRad is an on-demand, cloud-based teleradiology tool that provides patients and physicians with real-time radiology scan readings from remote specialists. Seth Quansah and Ernest Appiah, co-founders of InstantRad, came up with the idea after losing loved ones due to extended wait times for urgent scans. Unfortunately, many Africans have suffered the same fate across the continent; in some locations, there is only one radiologist for every million people. Scans can currently be held in a queue for days or weeks before being properly reviewed due to the continent’s lack of skilled radiologists.

With over 100 African radiologists engaged on its website, InstantRad is currently functioning in Ghana and Nigeria. Patient scans are performed at a local health facility and then uploaded to a platform where a remote radiologist can review and report findings to the local provider, resulting in faster, more accurate diagnoses and more appropriate treatments.

Using technology, InstantRad has successfully reduced scan reporting turnaround times to ensure quick results and expand clinical opportunities for radiologists, assisting in the retention of radiologists on the continent in an era of brain drain. In addition, InstantRad offers free webinars and lectures for radiographers and radiologists to help them improve their radiological skills and knowledge. The company is in the process of scaling up and is currently looking for grants and investment to help it expand from 2 to 10 African countries.

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The following blogspot focuses on the success story of InstantRad, their impact on Ghana’s health system and goals and legacies to achieve in the near future. Responses were given by Ernest Appiah.

InstantRad has been in operation for 3 years. So far, what gaps have you realised in Ghana’s healthcare system?

Currently, we need to have an interpolating system because so much information is sitting neglected in the hospitals, but radiologists need to have access to previous cases to do their work well. So the primary thing that can benefit Ghana’s healthcare system is interoperability.

What barriers did you face when you were starting out and how have they evolved since?

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Most hospitals don’t know about radiologists, and rely on IT people called Picture Archiving and Communications System (PACS) Administrators, who are trained to operate the medical imaging software, but have inadequate medical background in analyzing radiographic pictures. In the beginning, it was challenging to convince PACS Administrators that InstantRad isn’t here to steal their jobs, but to improve processes and ensure that patients get quality healthcare.

Generally, it takes a while for hospitals to start seeing the value we bring to the table.  Now that we are more well known, it’s a bit easier. I cannot put all hospitals in one basket; it takes 6 to 8 months to convince some hospitals and about 2 weeks to assure others of our worth.

Spreading awareness of InstantRad’s platform seems to be a challenge then. How is the organisation working to surmount it?

The main hurdle is getting the government’s attention and getting them to see the massive advantage of collaborating with InstantRad. When they acknowledge the importance of our services, it will save lives.

From our perspective, there are two ways of spreading awareness: knowing the right people in the system or you just keep going and trust that one day your story will touch the hearts of people in high places.

Currently, our approach is to collaborate with hospitals and bring them on board to further the spreading of the message. We also seek to collaborate with Doctoora and mPharma, other Africa-based healthcare startups, to engage radiologists living in the diaspora.

With brain drain standing as a serious barrier to good health services in Africa, how does it affect InstantRad as a new organisation and how are you tackling this challenge?

Our service does its best to curb brain drain. With InstantRad, health professionals can remain in the country and make money. Because of the training programs we offer from prestigious medical institutions in the United States such as John Hopkins and Mayo Clinic, professionals on our platform can create their own companies, grow their knowledge from the comfort of their homes and still access a wide range of hospitals.

Another thing is that we are currently working on second-opinion services. Most of the patients, who can afford it, fly to the UK and similar countries to get a second opinion on their medical diagnoses. With InstantRad, they can stay in the country and get a second opinion from a specialist remotely.

What are the requirements for a radiologist to join the InstantRad platform and what steps must they follow to be approved?

There are only two requirements. First, they need to be a qualified radiologist, and second, they need to get approval to practise radiology in the country. If they practise radiology without a license in the country they’re working in, they can be sued.

What advantages can a radiologist benefit from by working with InstantRad?

It’s really a two-way street. Because we collaborate with the radiologists in our network, we help them to achieve whatever future they want and amplify their voices in this field. In the same way, a lot of them help us to improve our platform. There were so many features we didn’t even think about, but based on their suggestions, we implemented them. Working hand in hand like this helps radiologists to make a change too.

Currently, InstantRad has grown from 2 to 10 African countries. What opportunities can be expected if InstantRad spreads all over the African continent? 

One major advantage is analytics for governments and policy makers. Such officials want to know which diseases are prevalent in their countries and our service is useful for providing such information.

A typical example is a time where radiologists detected pneumonia as a symptom of Covid-19 on the platform through a report. Because of the data we collect, we can tell you how many people have pneumonia related to Covid. So, the opportunities for data analysis are massive for government decision makers and health professionals.

What developments can we look forward to in radiological services in Ghana?

From a technical standpoint, second-opinion services. Some patients want to get second opinions from specialists who are often not easily accessible. InstantRad presents specialists to them directly. All they have to do is go online, upload the scan, make payment and get feedback or the second opinion they need. That’s what we are building currently.

What legacy do you want to leave in Ghana and beyond?

We want to be the central point for all medical emergencies in Ghana.  All medical professionals should be able to access patients’ radiographic pictures without any difficulties, and we want to be able to facilitate that.

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