Health + Tech | Heading in the right direction - National health insurance plan a good move
When I heard the announcement from the National Health Fund (NHF) late last year that the agency would be moving towards putting things in place for the development of a National Health Insurance Plan (NHIP) I was a little sceptical.
After all, administration after administration had said this very same thing but nothing ever came to fruition.
I was heartened when I recently saw that the NHF requested submissions for a consultant to examine and begin the process.
This means that even if we do not see an NHIP for a few years, at least we would have laid some important groundwork on which others can build if they are serious about achieving that goal.
An NHIP can significantly increase access to health care in Jamaica and satisfy the present unmet needs.
The opportunities will be endless in terms of a turnaround in every aspect of life - the economy, social inclusion, the social safety net, education, health, employment, productivity, a reduction in crime and violence and general upward financial and social mobility of the population.
In fact, just this past week the World Bank declared that the increased access to health care afforded to persons through the no-user-fees policy has already had positive impact on productivity. This is a solid testimony of the massive benefit to the country of any increase in access to health care.
Imagine then how much further we can progress as a country if we had universal access aided by the NHIP.
This, however, cannot be achieved without significant investment in technology. We have made important gains over the years for which, in my view, enough credit has not been given.
We are very advanced in several of the areas of health technology that we would need to amalgamate to fully implement and realise the benefits of the NHIP.
One is the real-time electronic insurance claims adjudication system that we have. Another is the full digitisation that is being done at the University Hospital of the West Indies and, hopefully, all government hospitals and health centres will follow.
The fact that we have electronic medical practice systems to include medical, dental, optical, pharmacy, radiology, diagnostics and lab, most of which are already linked through the insurance system, means that we already have the various links on the health-care chain talking to each other to enable a comprehensive system.
The standardisation and harmonisation of medical reference codes among health-care providers is also essential to having a comprehensive national patient record (NPR).
The NPR will be the important ingredient that ensures that patient care is never compromised.
The copyrighted Caribbean Drug Codes, which is a Jamaican product, along with procedure and diagnostic codes, provider, prescriber codes and doctors' codes will also enable efficiency and cohesiveness in the system.
We have the components that can strategically enable a very comprehensive and user-friendly NHIP.
In addition, as I indicated recently, we also have the technology to enable telemedicine and remote care management systems that can allow for full access to care by persons in difficult-to-reach communities across the island while using our medical personnel in a very efficient and cost-effective way.
Jamaica does not have to be a part of the statistics when agencies like the World Bank describe "400 million people (and counting) not having access to essential health services and six per cent of people in low- and middle-income countries being tipped into or pushed further into extreme poverty because of health spending." We have so much at our disposal that we must now use to solve our problems.
Clearly, a focus on health care is a good place to start as without a properly organised and implemented health-care delivery system - with the required technology - there can be no true sustainable development of our country and its people.