Distant diagnoses - Taking the travel out of healthcare
After feeling pain in his left arm since more than a month ago, computer specialist Shekar Reddy consulted an online programme to get a diagnosis, possible treatment options, and the names of doctors in Jamaica who specialised in treating his condition.
He was able to get information about his medical condition through a Hospital Information Management System that was designed by local information technology company Advance Integrated System (AIS).
Reddy said that he was diagnosed with tennis elbow due to the repetitive use of his wrist and arm. Through the programme, he was able to find the cheapest and most non-invasive method to treat the condition and is now feeling much better after visiting an orthopaedic surgeon and getting the procedure suggested.
The AIS telemedicine platform is intended to make Jamaicans access medical advice more easily.
Chief executive officer of AIS Doug Halsall says that the platform will be useful to both doctors and patients as it means that persons can obtain a differential diagnosis and then consult with a doctor who can also provide medical consultation online.
"Therefore, the doctor's time is spent treating you or looking at the likely diagnosis and refining that. So it is going to add a lot of efficiency," Halsall told The Sunday Gleaner.
"You will be able to look at the app and say, 'I want to see a dermatologist or whoever I want to talk to and then you will see them and you select who you want and once they respond, you will be charged for the 20 minutes slots, so that would debit your account and credit the doctor," he explained.
GROWING INTEREST IN TELEMEDICINE
The Ministry of Health 2016-2017 Annual Report noted that there has been a growing interest in telemedicine in Jamaica.
"The ministry has received offers of telemedicine systems from various countries and has observed demonstrations for two systems," the report stated.
"However, before a system can be implemented, a determination of Jamaica's requirements for a telemedicine system inclusive of, but not limited to implications for policy and practise standards, IT infrastructure and procurement specifications, must first be established," added the report.
That assessment is now being done and Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton said that a study was recently completed by Pan-American Health Organisation to assess Jamaica's suitability for health information system platforms.
"We want to be able to serve some of the most remote areas rather than getting people travelling to the main Type A hospitals, for example, so that the expertise that's located in major hospitals can provide services to those areas," he said.
"But it also helps with oversees missions for pre- and post-care; so you can assess cases before and follow up on overseas cases after," he noted.
Senior medical officer at the Savanna-la-Mar Hospital in Westmoreland, Dr Alfred Dawes, also feels that telemedicine is something that the country should embrace in order to make medical treatment more accessible to those living in rural communities.
"There are several underserved communities and health centres that have difficulty attracting staff for one reason or another and if we had telemedicine capabilities, we would be able to reach many more patients who are in urgent need of health care, but are not able to reach the major urban centres," said Dawes.
"This can be from diagnostics to tele-radiology, where they can actually do the X-rays or ultrasounds in those areas and have the reports read by a radiologist, reviewed by a doctor and they would know when to come in for definitive treatment or if they need urgent care in real time," the doctor explained.
He added that given the shortage of specialists in some areas, telemedicine is one of the options that should be considered.
"At Sav, we don't have a radiologist here and we are trying to set up an ultrasound suite and we would use tele-radiology to have the radiologist in another centre read the ultrasound reports and that would save on us hiring a radiologist full-time for the hospital," added Dawes.
"It would save on transporting patients out to diagnostic centres where they would have to pay out of pocket and, at the same time, tie up the ambulances and transport staff," he said.
But Dawes is concerned that the some Jamaicans might not readily embrace telemedicine, especially when utilised in the private healthcare centres.
"The culture of Jamaicans is that they like face-to-face contact with their physicians. It is an alien concept asking somebody to do a video interview, especially if you are meeting that patient for the first time," he said.