Tue | Sep 18, 2018

Telemedicine to ease healthcare strain

Published:Wednesday | August 1, 2018 | 12:00 AMSyranno Baines/Gleaner Writer
From left: Dr Winston Davidson, member of the Medical Council of Jamaica; Dr Michelle Ruth, senior medical officer, health infomatics, MOH; and Dr Che Bowen, chief medical officer, MDLink, listen to Dr David Walcott outline aspects of MDLink during the launch of of the service at the Spanish Court Hotel in St Andrew yesterday.

Describing as "ridiculous" the overcrowding in the accident and emergency (A&E) departments at local hospitals, chief medical officer of MDLink, Dr Che Bowen, is contending that the take-up of telemedicine services can greatly ease the current strain on the healthcare system.

MDLink is an online medical service that allows patients to connect with their doctors and receive treatment via video, audio or text messages.

Speaking yesterday at the official launch at Spanish Court Hotel in New Kingston, Bowen underscored that MDLink did not treat serious or high-risk conditions. But, he argued that reduced health-care costs, electronic prescription and time-saving were to benefit patients with low-risk conditions such as urine and skin infections, menstrual cramps and migraines.

"You have 100 patients coming into A&E with the flu or migraine or cough, and that's slowing down the system and using up all the resources. This, in fact, could be treated online where it is safe, efficient and much quicker," stated Bowen, noting that MDLink Telemedicine Services was currently priced at J$1,500 for a session with a doctor that lasts 15 minutes on average.

"MDLink isn't trying to replace healthcare; we're merely trying to complement it and enhance the way patients receive healthcare. This telemedicine is not a new concept in that it has been practised in Jamaica before and has been in practice in developed nations for about the past 10 years," he added.

Bowen further argued that local psychiatrists currently use Skype telecommunications technology to do their psychiatric consultations as such patients feel more comfortable being treated at home.

"That's where MDLink would come into play as well, because it provides a more secure platform than Skype," Bowen reasoned.

"Even on the wards you have residents speaking with consultants over the phone to manage patients right outside of operating theatre, which is another example of telemedicine at play in Jamaica at the moment. So, what MDLink is actually doing is streamlining and formalising all of this on a more secure, easily accessible platform," he explained.

Bowen noted that MDLink utilised a platform that was developed on the Amazon web services infrastructure and is compliant with the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act in the United States.

Doctors seeking to register with MDLink must upload their certified documents (academic degree, medical council licence, etc) in order to receive telemedicine services approval with MDLink.

"About five doctors have registered because we haven't actually put it out to the public, but as soon as we do, I expect a lot of doctors to come on board because it's extra income," said Bowen.

syranno.baines@gleanerjm.com