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Public-private sector partnership makes telemedicine in Jamaica real

Published:Monday | June 11, 2012 | 12:00 AM
John Clear (left), vice-president of Columbus Business Solutions, explains the Polycom Practitioner Cart, used for telemedicine applications, to Dr Fenton Ferguson (centre), minister of health and Professor Winston Davidson, head of the School of Public Health and Health Technology at the University of Technology. - Contributed

Telemedicine is soon to be a reality in Jamaica, enabling greater access to improved medical care for all Jamaicans regardless of location. This comes as the result of the work of a consortium comprised of the Ministry of Health, The National Telemedicine Project, and the National Health Fund in partnership with Columbus Business Solutions, along with Telegens and MC Systems. The team is in the final stages of implementing a trial with the overall strategic objective being to provide an integrated best practice, low-cost telemedicine solution in Jamaica.

"Telemedicine represents a priceless opportunity to broaden access and affordability to modern health-care outcomes," said Health Minister Dr Fenton Ferguson, in his comments about the telemedicine trial and the impact of the availability of telemedicine solutions here. "Jamaicans here and in the diaspora, as well as others overseas, may now seek to take advantage of opportunities to get premium care in tandem, or not, with a vacation experience on our shores. It also offers tremendous potential as a conduit for information and technology transfer and the forging of public-private partnerships in health between Jamaica and the global community."

For the telemedicine trial, three medical centres - The University Hospital of the West Indies, Mandeville Regional Hospital, and UTech Ambulatory Care Unit - will be linked via a teleconferencing solution powered by the broadband network operated by Columbus Business Solutions. The trial will demonstrate the capabilities of a multi-service, IP broadband infrastructure that has all the features of a mission critical system (security, scalability, inter-operability and redundancy) to support a telemedicine solution in Jamaica.

"The trial is an essential demonstration of the application of video conferencing between health institutions to better utilise specialist services in areas where these services do not exist," explained Professor Winston Davidson, head of the National Telemedicine Project, as he described the project and its expected outcomes. "In so doing, more Jamaicans will benefit from the services of the best and most highly trained physicians wherever they are."

Become a dominant player

Professor Davidson said that this trial is just one of several components in the application of information technology which is necessary to put Jamaica in a position to become a dominant player in the health tourism market.

Telemedicine refers to the delivery of medical services from a distance, using technology to engage, see and treat patients. The successful implementation of a telemedicine solution in Jamaica will serve to reduce the cost of health care and the costs patients face from travelling great distances to seek medical attention. Other benefits are increased efficiencies in various aspects of health-care management, including shared health professional staffing and fewer or shorter hospital stays.

"We see our role in the telemedicine trial as a tangible demonstration of our commitment to the social and economic development of Jamaica. We are fully committed to providing the infrastructure to enable the access to technology needed to advance the delivery of health care in Jamaica," said John Clear, vice-president of Columbus Business Solutions.

"For the past six years, we have been deploying an extensive fibre optic network on the island and are committed to working with public and private-sector partners to ensure that the far-reaching difference that this technology can bring to the island is fully realised."

Telemedicine is extremely beneficial for people living in rural communities where specialist doctors may not normally be practising. Patients who live in such areas can be seen by a medical professional, who can provide an accurate and complete examination. Telemedicine may also be used as a teaching tool whereby experienced medical staff can observe, show and instruct medical staff those in another location.

Columbus Business Solutions and other participants in the telemedicine trial consortium will share details of the trial during presentations at the second annual International Public Health Conference that began at the Wyndham Kingston Hotel on June 7 and ended yesterday.