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Telemedicine: Supporting health care anywhere, everywhere

Posted by By Sade Oguntola on 2006/06/29 | Views: 467 |

Telemedicine: Supporting health care anywhere, everywhere


WHAT a wonderful price to pay for information technology (IT). One which will end of saving more lives with specialised care made possible at the doorstep of a rural man without a hospital or even doctor in sight....

WHAT a wonderful price to pay for information technology (IT). One which will end of saving more lives with specialised care made possible at the doorstep of a rural man without a hospital or even doctor in sight. Robots performing complex surgical procedures directed by medical specialists at major hospitals continents away. Pocket sized computers programming new nerve networks, so people with spinal cord injuries can walk again.

Cell phones that just look like watch, but does much more than tell the time, takes your temperature, check your pulse rate, measure your blood sugar levels.

Video phones and satellite linkup to far away expert eyes which offer specialised treatment skills when serious accidents and catastrophes occur. Welcome to the world of telemedicine where space-age technologies will challenge and revitalise future system of health care.These dramatic, seemingly farfetched medical scenarios already are and will soon will be realities in Nigeria. Telemedicine is the use of telecommunications for medical diagnosis and patient care. It involves the use of telecommunications technology as a medium for the provision of medical services to sites that are at a distance from the provider.

The concept encompasses everything from the use of standard telephone service through high speed, wide bandwidth transmission of digitized signals in conjunction with computers, fiber optics, and satellites and other sophisticated peripheral equipment and software. Telemedicine can be divided into three aspects: aids to decision-making, remote sensing and collaborative arrangements for the real-time management of patients at a distance.

African nations no doubt will be in the best position to benefit from telemedicine as they have the lowest ratio of doctors to population in the world, President Olusegun Obasanjo stated at the Pan-African conference on telemedicine and e-Health in Abuja just last week. “With only 1.3 per cent of the world’s medical workers in Africa, the need for capacity building is apparent”, he stated adding “the situation of acute shortage of health professionals is complicated by inequality in the distribution of existing health professionals to the detriment of rural areas and their exodus abroad”.

The President speaking through Professor Eyitayo Lambo, the Minister of health ,acknowledged at the summit that “this is where I find telemedicine very interesting, but challenging. If health care can be delivered to rural areas using the right technology, then it is definitely worth embracing”. This corroborates the Federal government’s effort to facilitate telemedicine and e-health within Nigerian healthcare systems . It is already thinking of setting up a national task group on telemedicine and e-health.

The committee is to develop a framework for establishing the Nigerian telemedicine system for wider implementation in the healthcare sector. The objective of the policy to be formulated will be to see to the use of IT for the establishment of healthcare information system that cuts across primary, secondary and tertiary healthcare systems.

Improving the efficiency of patient care and the reduction in the cost of the healthcare delivery, as well as its deployment to develop drug information, records and bibliographic records amongst others will be achieved. Professor Krishnam Ganapathy, President, Neurological Society of India, also spoke on telemedicine at a lecture he gave at the University College Hospital, (UCH), Ibadan. He emphasised that giving the low level of medical experts to patients and the fact that no such doctor of that rank will want to go to the rural area, that telemedicine remains the only option to take high medical expertise to the door step of every person in Nigeria, irrespective of their location.

“It is the expertise that will be transferred to the patient not the expert using IT. Unnecessary traveling is eliminated through image acquisition, storage and display to the expert wherever such may be and appropriate responses sent back the same way. The expert said telemedicine has ceased from been a friction but reality as even in India, it has been tested and found very effective. “At Apollo Telemedicine Networking Foundation, we had a bus made by Phillips. This moves to the rural area with a driver and another individual. The patient enters into the specially built bus, the driver already trained fixes appropriate probes, scans and relay the image and finding through a computer to V-Sat to a doctor who also these on its computer, and appropriate information for treatment is relayed back. This, we found a very veritable technology appropriate to reach to the teeming populace of India, he declared.

“If we have to achieve the minimum bed rest, it means more hospitals must be built and this cannot happen. Even the required specialists wouldn’t relocate to suburbs. So with modern health care delivered this way, it will not be necessary for a consultant doctor to be in the village but with Information, Communication, Technology (ICT) still consult in the village. “ICT is available in Nigeria. With mobile phone you can transfer even a CT scan to an expert for its interpretation and also get back a feed back. A family with a mentally retarded child can assess advice from a specialist in a big town. This will greatly reduce the tension in such a family who ordinarily may not be able to afford to bring the patient to town for expert care.

Telemedicine, he said, has a big role in the third world even now that Africa has the largest number of people with HIV who will not only need to be diagnosed early but will also require prompt and adequate treatment.
Some cases of emergency requiring immediate attention of the doctor also Professor Ganapathy said, will be attended to through a doctor who though may not be on ground but yet consulted anywhere in the world.
Even as the 53 countries involved in the Pan-African e-Network looks forward to been linked and to have access to telemedicine in less than 18 months from now, Professor E. A. Elebute, Chairman, UCH management Board, said telemedicine will also serve to help put back hospitals like UCH as the first academic health centre in Africa.

Professor Abiodun Ilesanmi, Chief Medical Director, CMD, UCH sounding optimistic that telemedicine has indeed started in India, emphasised the need for experts to keep looking inward to better the lot of the nation. Though the hospital had attempted teleradiology as far back as 2003, he said about six weeks ago, the hospital was again nominated to bid within the African Union for a regional centre for telemedicine as well as partner with the Apollo Telemedicine Networking Foundation.

While acknowledging that UCH is fortunate to have capacity and capability for specialised care services , he said that no country including Nigeria, can boost of having enough people to offer specialist care, especially in neurosurgery. The current reforms in the country’s health sector to ensure better health care delivery, he assured the hospital will continue to align with. Professor Temitayo Sokunbi said the telemedicine project will indeed afford the hospital the opportunity to have a strong and virile centre to train more neurosurgeons which the country is currently lacking . He stressed the importance of people taking whatever technology offers to better their lots.

Telemedicine has indeed proven the need for a more coordinated approach to care provision. As it intends to offer facilities for transfer of diagnostic information via satellite and later teleconferencing for treatment, it will no doubt help to meet a significant part of the demand for improved health care worldwide, save money and lives with a few clicks of a computer mouse.

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