Health + Tech | The economic and social benefits of health technology
Recently, for the first time, I heard a member of our diaspora mention health care before crime, as a reason not to retire in Jamaica. This trend would rob us of a vital source of foreign exchange through pensions.
Health care in Jamaica has been fraught with issues for a long time. Development brought with it a continuous movement of people seeking a better life. People need continuity in health care but the present system has not afforded them this luxury.
Soon people began taking advantage of the ailing system. Patients could go to any hospital and be seen as 'new'. In doing so, they could get multiple prescriptions for the same ailment and hoard the already scarce drugs.
CLAMPDOWN ON ILLEGAL PHARMACIES
Recall not so long ago, the police clamped down on illegal pharmacies. I believe it's possible that this loophole could have been supplying these establishments.
Within this is also the obvious inability to consistently track patients so that medical records, diagnostics and lab results - which frequently go missing - could be accessible wherever they seek care. Another potential problem is the lack of proper inventory management leading to possible pilfering of resources.
These problems were magnified with the introduction of the 'no user fee' policy in 2008, which required no payment for drugs and other services and saw increased usage.
The Government spends billions of dollars each year on drugs, sundries, supplies, and equipment. The system is fraught with lawsuits, with patients claiming negligence while medical personnel accuse patients of disorderly conduct. These are symptoms of an inefficient system taking its toll on users and administrators alike.
Technology will obviously not provide the solution to every ill in the public health sector, but it can go a far way in plugging many of the existing gaps.
For one, electronic medical records can provide continuity of care across the system and also address the problem of hoarding drugs. The use of technology will prevent duplication of patient records and more efficient registration, therefore, quicker throughout.
Lab and diagnostic results could be digitised and accessed from a central database. The Picture Archiving and Communication Systems, which will be used by the University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI), can be used to network labs and provide easy access to patient results.
An electronic inventory-management system could track the use of resources across the sector and address pilfering.
The Ministry of Health could monitor each regional health authority and increase accountability at these entities. The ministry could be alerted when supplies need to be replaced, giving valuable information on the use of resources potentially saving millions of dollars.
The resulting efficiencies realised from using an electronic system would, among other things, ease some pressure from health-care workers and increase patient satisfaction, especially in terms of reducing waiting time.
I commend the UHWI for taking this important step. Already, without even full implementation, the hospital is realising benefits. The pharmacy, for example, has significantly reduced waiting time because of the speed with which drugs are now dispensed.
Jamaica has some of the best health workers in the world. If we are able to bring the system up to par in terms of management, administration, and efficiency, we will be unstoppable. The economic and social benefits would be great. Technology will play a significant role in this development.