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Two for the price of one! - Innovation, creativity highlighted as key to improving health care

Published:Wednesday | November 23, 2016 | 12:00 AM
Wayne Chen
Howard Mitchell

Cutting costs through innovation and creativity is one of the options open to countries like Jamaica that are struggling to improve public access to basic health-care services.

This was agreed by Fourth Floor panellists during a meeting to explore options to properly fund public health care.

The well-recited problems in the public health-care system include the lack of functioning ambulances to take patients for testing and treatment, or to respond to accidents and other emergencies. Some of these problems are largely under-reported, yet, they have been begging for innovative solutions.

It is this innovation and creative thinking which has resulted in the recent delivery of two spanking new ambulances to the Lionel Town and Mandeville hospitals, which fall under the umbrella of the Southern Regional Health Authority (SRHA).

Wayne Chen, chairman of the SRHA, which covers health-care facilities in Manchester, Clarendon and St Elizabeth, detailed how an internally generated idea resulted in the acquisition of the two ambulances.

"We wrote to the contractor general and the National Contracts Commission to get guidelines on procurement, and we bought two Hiace minivans," he said.




Both vehicles were customised at a cost of $14 million, working with Jamaica Fibre Glass Company to ensure the modifications were done to world standards.

Instead of waiting for six months to have one ambulance delivered from Japan at the cost of $14 million, the ambulances are currently serving the two communities.

Money was raised for the purchase and retrofitting of the vehicles through fees collected from insured patients who use the hospital facilities and are encouraged to swipe their cards when they seek treatment.

Recognising the value of innovation and the dramatic effect it could have if replicated throughout the system, the question was asked: "Who will take this idea further up the chain?"

"We have photographed and documented every step in the process and we have shared it. I spoke with the chief medical officer and I have asked them to transfer all this information to the Ministry of Health," replied Chen.

Howard Mitchell, who heads the Healthy Lifestyle and Wellness Foundation, is of the view that this type of innovation should be immediately universally adopted. While he sees some merit in decentralisation, he hailed the importance of centralisation for other services.




"There are some economies of scale, management and maintenance of equipment that you pick up by centralisation," he offered, while suggesting that procurement could also be more efficient with centralisation.

The reconditioned ambulances and SRHA's commitment to innovation have set the stage for greater leaps into creativity. What's on the horizon for SRHA's is the refurbishing of ophthalmologic microscopes.

Chen said the experts have assured him that a refurbished microscope is as good as new, once certain critical computer parts are replaced and the lenses are in shape, and the sweetener is that a refurbished microscope is half the price of a new one.

Once again, he has gone to the contractor general in order to procure the parts directly from the United States.

"We figure we can save a couple hundred thousand US dollars on equipment like this so, our target is to find equipment at the lowest price," said Chen.