Advertorial | Telemedicine will benefit local health sector – experts
A telemedicine provider in Jamaica is encouraging more use of telemedicine locally because it is cost effective to both patients and hospitals.
“Telemedicine allows for a variety of benefits because it is convenient, especially as it relates to time and schedule for the patients. In some cases, it costs the patient less than the insurance payment that the doctor receives,” explained Dr Che Bowen, chief executive officer, MDLink, a Jamaica-based company which provides telemedicine services.
“It also helps patients to reduce waiting time, as they don’t have to visit a hospital or health facility to be diagnosed and treated,” added Dr Bowen.
Telemedicine involves the use of audio, video or computer technology to examine, monitor and manage patients. It also allows doctors to team up on patient care, participate in diagnostic procedures and keep track of current practices. It is now used around the world in the treatment of paediatric patients, persons living in remote communities and those requiring home-based care.
“It also benefits hospitals because all they will need to set up a service is Internet and a computer, which is not costly. It will reduce waiting time for patients at hospitals because doctors can do consultations at anytime, even outside of regular hours, which will reduce the stress on hospital staff and resources because the platform which we use, for instance, is strictly digital and is updated monthly. It is also inexpensive for a doctor to sign up to our service,” he added.
Dr Bowen explained that telemedicine is beneficial to Jamaicans, especially those living in rural Jamaica, where access to healthcare specialists can be costly and inconvenient, based on the distance from Kingston or Montego Bay.
In 2018, Minister of Health and Wellness, Dr Christopher Tufton launched a telemedicine project in Kitson Town in his constituency of West Central St Catherine, to allow patients who need to see specialist doctors to access one, using telemedicine technology.
The aim of the initiative was to reduce the time to deliver patient care by linking them via teleconferencing/video conferencing with specialist physicians and clinicians from health centres and certain hospitals, through mobile devices.
“The main objective of the programme was to assist those in rural Jamaica, who were affected by long travel distances, due to the lack of specialists at community clinics. What it meant was that, patients could get consultations without travelling to Kingston, because the service would allow them to be treated via a video link or teleconference,” Dr Carl Bruce, Medical Chief of Staff at The University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI) ,explained.
Speaking with the Jamaica Information Service (JIS) at the launch of the pilot in 2018, Dr Bruce stated that the development was “very significant,” and that the ministry had purchased equipment to enable specialist doctors, such as kidney specialists, cardiologists, and ear, nose and throat physicians, to reach patients, using broadband services.
Collin Burgess, IT infrastructure manager at MC Systems, points out that, with improvements in information and communication technologies and digitalisation, telemedicine brings many benefits to healthcare in Jamaica.
“Some patients won’t need to visit a hospital; and doctors can use IT to treat illnesses which are not life threatening, thereby taking pressure off health centres and hospitals,” he stated.
“It means that patients can also have their medical history stored to the cloud, which can be accessed by another doctor, in the event that they require care and their doctors are not present,” he added.
Although having many benefits, a World Health Organization report listed culture, cost, legislation, doctor-patient confidentiality breaches, privacy and ethics, as some of the concerns affecting the full roll-out of the technology globally.
“There is a cost to set up the platform, purchase the devices and develop the infrastructure.
Also, there are concerns about the security of patients’ information and some persons are worried about hacking, when it comes to storing their data in the cloud. Therefore, we will have to be compliant with the highest standard for protecting health information,” Burgess said.
Dr Bowen adds that in the case of Jamaica, financial inclusion has been a challenge.
“From our experience, many of our clients also lack a credit card for online payment. What we are planning to do, is to develop a prepaid card for them to access the service,” he stated.
Both Dr Bowen and Burgess agree that telemedicine’s benefits far outweigh its challenges.
“The cost to consumers will be reduced in the long run, no matter what the initial start-up costs may be,” explained Burgess.
“The end result will be better, more affordable access to healthcare for Jamaicans, because of the apps, technology and convenience.”
Dr Bowen, who is the lead provider of telemedicine services in Jamaica, believes the benefits are even more immediate.
“It has the potential to also impact tourism, as a patient can be treated in his hotel room. Also, patients can save on time and gas, as well as avoid the possibility of contracting other illnesses while waiting at a hospital.
The benefits of convenience and access far outweigh any impediments,” he affirmed.
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