Why telemedicine could be the answer to ailing Africa healthcare
By Ayo Bamgboye(AHIN):
Sometimes it is hard to distinguish between telemedicine and telehealth. American Telemedicine Association described telemedicine the actual delivery of remote health services using technology. It runs on variety of applications and services using two?way video, email, wireless phones and other forms of telecommunications technology. Some decades ago telemedicine was not regarded as a reliable or affordable way of dispensing healthcare. However, the growing advancement in technology has turned the tide around. Telemedicine is now seen as feasible and cost saving technology. Telemedicine platforms provide opportunities to connect patients with doctors through mobile phone or video to diagnose and receive treatments. Some doctors used it as a resource to get second opinion.
The above points make telemedicine to be crucial element in the development of Africa healthcare services. In most Africa countries like other developing world, the ratios of doctors to patients are abysmal. In addition, not all towns and villages are accessible by cars.Thus, using telemedicine could save time and lives. Recently, there has been dramatic increase in the number of people using mobile phones in Africa. In fact, most of the big names in mobile telephone business have established their services in Africa. This means that the opportunity and technology platform are there to explore. However, the fact that there are mobile phones and mobile phone networks providers don’t suggest by any means that’s the only way telemedicine could be practiced. It is only indicating that there is no need to procrastinate or moan about what is not available but get on with what is currently available in Africa and make the best use of it.
There are three distinctive areas in which the use of telemedicine could be beneficial to Africa healthcare:
- Primary and Secondary care
Primary cares in Africa need to be developed. Apart from very low doctors to patients’ ratio, there are sparse infrastructures to support effective patient care. The use telemedicine will help in reducing the way patient besiege hospital for care. Doctors and nurses time could be better managed if they can contact patient via mobile phone or dedicated video meeting via Skype where internet services are available. Health professionals would be able to facilitate consultation between apatient and specialist assisting the primary care doctor from a remote location. Likewise in the secondary care, use of telemedicine could improve collaboration between hospitals. For example, an open heart operation was carried out Kenya in conjunct ion with specialists abroad. Such is the magnitude of opportunity that can be exploredusing telemedicine.
- Remote patient monitoring
Even though the title might be too ambitious in relation to the current level of facilities available in Africa. It is achievable. CardioPad, an African invention that enables heart examinations like electrocardiograms (ECG) to be conducted at remote, rural locations on a touch screen tablet and wirelessly transfer the readings to heart specialist anywhere in the country to interpret and render a diagnosis is been used in Cameroon. Such experiences can be transferred to other parts of Africa. It will enable patients to be monitored from home when they previously may have needed to be monitored as inpatients. On the long run, it will reduce the high cost of providing inpatient services, though; moving some forms of observation to an outpatient basis substantially reduces the costs borne by the healthcare system
- Medical education
There are so many ways of getting information these days, especially ifyou really want to. However, Africa healthcare decision makers need to invest in health practitioners’ education and training to improve current level of care. Dedicated TV channels could be used to broadcast training to people in the rural areas or remote locations who might not have enough funds or mean to get to the cities. Skype or video conferencing could be an option where enough broadband capacity is available.
In conclusion, usingtelemedicine will reduce both admissionsand readmissions and other adverse events at a cost that is less than the cost of the problems themselves. In addition, the use of telemedicine can free up clinicians time to deliver services to patients that would have made a long journey to receive care. A similar project but not exactly the same was launched in Kenya. Patients pay a nominal fee to get diagnosis over the phone.