Thu | Oct 17, 2019

Health + Tech | Deciding on a telemedicine partner

Published:Sunday | September 22, 2019 | 12:19 AMDoug Halsall
Telemedicine requires very little set-up in the present technology atmosphere.
Doug Halsall
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In the past few years, a number of telemedicine vendors have entered the local market. This is a good indication that we are moving forward and evolving to incorporate digital health into the healthcare ecosystem. We still have a little way to go but we are on the right track.

Telemedicine requires very little set-up in the present technology atmosphere. We have to be clear, however, that telemedicine is not simply a video call. While some platforms have got the basic idea, I do not believe that most have all the requirements to truly serve the needs of the healthcare industry from both the patient and care-giver perspectives. There are some must-haves that will make a telemedicine platform work efficiently and effectively.

PAYMENT SYSTEM

If you are looking for a comprehensive telemedicine platform that can truly act as a doctor’s visit without spatial restrictions, then you have to consider how a doctor would get paid seamlessly. Bear in mind that less than 14 per cent of Jamaicans have credit cards and eCommerce transactions cannot be executed with local debit cards, so a more accessible payment system is needed.

A fully integrated mobile money platform, such as Quisk, would mean that the payment would quickly be taken care of within the allotted time with the doctor and broaden access to persons who would generally not qualify for a credit card or even a regular bank account. Let’s be clear, though, that this is not to the exclusion of other payment options.

INSURANCE CLAIMS

Importantly, along with a payment mechanism, patients must be able to use their health insurance for this encounter. If we are promoting this as the same as a doctor’s visit – without spatial limitations – then the same benefits that a patient would get from physically going into a doctor’s office must apply. This means that a patient or doctor should not feel short-changed by the encounter.

In other words, access through telemedicine must be seen as a desirable option, and if patients are able to make insurance claims, whether electronically or paper-based for the encounter, it would be.

ELECTRONIC MEDICAL RECORDS

In order to ensure that the patient’s file is updated, a telemedicine encounter has to be added to the patient’s electronic medical records (EMR). The idea is for the patient’s record to be updated and accessible for later encounters in and out of office, even if a different physician or specialist is seen elsewhere. The nature of the EMR means that it does not have any spatial barriers and a telemedicine encounter should enrich this.

MULTIPLE CARE PROFESSIONALS ON ONE CALL

If the patient is remote and has to be in a clinic or in-home care, for example, the doctor might want to refer to the nurse along with a specialist so more than one professional needs to be accessible to the call. The telemedicine platform, therefore, must simultaneously accommodate several persons on the one call, with the EMR able to incorporate notes and recommendations from each professional while have the ability to compile prescription items that may be recommended by various participants.

PRESCRIPTION

It doesn’t make practical sense if the doctor cannot send a prescription to the person’s pharmacy of choice if he or she is in a different location, so electronic prescribing is an integral part of telemedicine. Remember that with telemedicine there should be no spatial limitations and so a doctor, for example, who is in Trinidad seeing a patient in Jamaica, must be able to send a prescription to that patient’s pharmacy, whether by email or other electronic means without issue.

PATIENT ACCESS

For a telemedicine platform to work effectively, patients must have access to a portal to make appointments easily and check for availability of the physician. They should also be able to choose which physicians they wish to see. In other words, the platform must accommodate online appointment scheduling involving the patient.

These are important considerations when deciding on a telemedicine platform. It would be a bonus if the platform could also be integrated into a doctor’s practice management system. If the offering is little more than a video call, then there are many free ways of achieving this. Telemedicine, as you have seen, is much more intricate.

- Doug Halsall is chairman and CEO of Advanced Integrated Systems. Email feedback to editorial@gleanerjm.com and doug.halsall@gmail.com.