Tue | Oct 23, 2018

Health + Tech | Jamaica ready to roll - Getting telemedicine into the healthcare system not that difficult

Published:Sunday | April 15, 2018 | 12:08 AMDoug Halsall

Integrating telemedicine into the healthcare system is not as hard as you would imagine, especially given that the systems and other tools are readily available to do so.

But if we should begin using telemedicine as a major component of the healthcare system, inside and outside the public sector, how many Jamaicans would be able to easily access and benefit? This is a very important issue that we are technically able to resolve if the right environment is created.

I want to make it clear that this perspective is in no way implying that we are unable to successfully deliver telemedicine services for our population right now. We already can.

Just recently, my company, Advanced Integrated Systems, and a partner in India successfully integrated a videoconferencing system into the health information management system (HIMS) being used at the University Hospital of the West Indies.

This facility is also available within our medical practice management system for doctors’ offices. The system can accommodate up to four persons at the same time, so patient, general practitioner, consultant and nurse, for example, can be on the same video call.

This may sound similar to any other videoconferencing mechanism out there but think about how the doctor, for example, would be paid for a telemedicine session. If we consider credit cards, it’s possible, but less than 15 per cent of Jamaicans have these, thus inhibiting general access.

Stored Value Card

A stored value card may also be possible, but who would want to have to go to a brick-and-mortar establishment to put ‘credit’ on a card? This would not work, given how we Jamaicans function and you might as well just travel to a hospital, health centre, or doctor’s office, since you would have to travel anyway.

Also, this would be very inconvenient in the event of an emergency and/or if one is overseas and wishes to see a particular local doctor.

The obvious answer is to use digitised cash made possible through mobile money solution Quisk. This way, any socio-economic group can access, top up is convenient online, via mobile phone and through ATMs, and importantly, unlike a stored value card, this payment method, like a credit card, can be used for any purpose.

The videoconferencing software I spoke of earlier is designed to integrate with this mobile money product, guaranteeing the medical practitioner payment before the encounter and the patient has the choice to pay at any point of access.

The videoconferencing system, which is a part of the HIMS being used by more than 200 hospitals in India, is far advanced because India is way ahead of us with the implementation of mobile money platforms and efforts to digitise cash.

In addition, the population in India has, either willingly or forced by circumstances, to accept and use mobile money for many of their transactions due to government policy.

Another advantage is that these telemedicine based encounters can be written to the patient’s electronic medical records (EMR) to ensure continuity of care and easy reference.

Electronically generated and transferred prescriptions can also be done, as a consequence of the encounter, thus allowing the patient to purchase drugs efficiently, at a pharmacy of their choice, even if they may happen to be temporarily overseas. This would also go to the patient’s EMR.

Jamaica is ripe for the development of telemedicine because we have, or have access to, every component required, including remote care devices which I spoke about in earlier articles.

The faster we are able to normalise the use of Quisk as the payment platform, the quicker we will be able to mainstream telemedicine so that people, even in the most remote parts of the country, can have access to the healthcare provider of their choice, routinely or in an emergency.

- Doug Halsall is chairman and CEO Advanced Integrated Systems. Feedback: Doug.halsall@gmail.com