Thu | Jul 16, 2020

Health+Technology | The value of telehealth

Published:Sunday | June 7, 2020 | 12:00 AM
Doug Halsall
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COVID-19 has put into stark perspective the importance and usefulness of health technology. Many persons would have used some form of telehealth – knowingly or unknowingly – especially during this period of pandemic. Telemedicine is perhaps one of the most popular forms, but it is only one of many ways that telehealth can be used to ensure continuity of care, especially if a patient is unable to visit a doctor’s office.

Telehealth is defined as “the use of electronic information and telecommunications technologies to support long-distance clinical healthcare, patient and professional health-related education, public health and health administration” ( www.healthit.gov).

Technology absorption has been traditionally and comparatively slow in Jamaica, but there has been a more-than-usual acceleration, given the restrictions that were forced upon us by the present pandemic. The increased use of technology was more apparent in virtual education, work-from-home solutions and healthcare. To clarify, these things were already being done, but more of the population was forced to use these methods in a way that they perhaps would not have done previously.

Increased Demand for Telemedicine

The heightened demand for telemedicine is a case in point. As someone who has been in the health technology business for years, I know how difficult it is to get new technologies to market and how long it takes for any kind of absorption and widespread use. Therefore, the immediate spike in the use of telemedicine was higher than I’ve witnessed in a long time. We should seek now to build on this interest when restrictions have been fully removed and the country is back to what can be described as ‘normal’. The technology has certainly demonstrated its value for more than just this period.

In 2018, the Government, through the Ministry of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining, launched the eCare pilot project as part of plans to improve community access to healthcare services. ECare is primarily to allow persons to be able to interact through an application with a doctor for consultation advice but does several other commendable things:

• It focuses on persons with chronic non-communicable diseases such as diabetes (it was implemented in collaboration with the Diabetes Association of Jamaica).

• Allows persons to access a medical professional in the public sector without leaving home.

• Allows the health practitioner to send e-prescriptions.

Full Implementation

That programme used on a wider scale would have been ideal in this pandemic and going forward. I do hope the Government will have the means to fully implement it. I believe this is a good time to do so, since we now have more people’s attention where technology use is concerned, and telehealth is being viewed more and more as part of the normal and acceptable means of seeking care.

Telehealth has several other benefits that we could seek to take advantage of going forward.

It could facilitate more flexible business models. A doctor’s practice, for example, would not necessarily have to only be at a brick-and-mortar establishment. He/she could use a combination of means to provide care to patients.

More efficient and effective continuity of care through remote patient monitoring can be achieved. Remote-care management tools would also be used in this case.

Expansion of access especially at the community level. There is, of course, certain infrastructure that we would need to facilitate this in our environment such as broadened Internet access. However, with our historically low health-seeking behaviour, telehealth could fill some gaps in care.

More efficient use of human resources. We have for a very long time been hearing the call for more healthcare workers as there are shortages in many areas. While telehealth will not improve the numbers, it can help to utilise health workers’ time more efficiently, leading to more patients seen in a day.

The use of telehealth, especially with continuity of care, will facilitate a more comprehensive and accurate electronic health record for patients. This would also be easily shareable if necessarily, for example in a hospital setting where the patient has to visit various specialists. This would also improve patient care.

Telehealth, can change the face of healthcare in a very positive way and should be properly incorporated into our healthcare system going forward.

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