Saturday, February 24, 2024

Telemedicine affords rural populations instant medical attention

In its quest to improve customer service delivery and customer satisfaction in terms of medical attention, the Ministry of Health (MOH) has embarked on yet another initiative that will make it easier for people seeking dental diagnosis and treatment to access it by remote medium.

The initiative, known as Mobile telemedicine, involves the use of a mobile phone with a camera and an established mobile infrastructure as an information tool, linking the patient and specialist from their respective stationery positions.

Themba Sibanda, Public Relations Officer at MOH said, “In this case, Clinicians at recipient District hospitals will use a mobile phone, which has customized software and a built in camera to provide remote diagnosis from a dental specialist in Gaborone.”

He indicated that such a facility allows for specialized treatment at clinics, which otherwise would not be possible and also this tends to save time and money for both government and the patients.

Sibanda said organizations that enabled this giant technological stride include Click Diagnostics, Botswana-University of Pennsylvania Partnership and Orange-Botswana.

Click Diagnostics provides phone software, database services and IT support. Botswana-University of Pennsylvania Partnership provides project management, advertisement and specialist consultancy while Orange -Botswana is scheduled to provide post-paid, data-enabled sim cards for cell phones.

The first pilot project was carried out from August-October 2009 at Scottish Livingstone Hospital in Molepolole and Princess Marina Hospital in Gaborone. It proved to be effective and was met with positive responses from both the patients and the clinicians.

So far, Botswana has only one oral and maxillofacial surgeon in the public service and all complex cases in oral medicine and oral surgery are referred to and attended by the same surgeon at Princess Marina Hospital.

It was on that basis that, Mobile telemedicine was identified as the universally proven and appropriate tool as it would allow this doctor to diagnose remotely and advise remote clinics on proper treatment without patients being referred to Gaborone.

The rate of referrals to Princess Marina Hospital and the amount of money the ministry has been spending on transportation of patients and accommodating them in wards has been reduced due to telemedicine, according to the MOH spokesperson.

On the other hand, patients also save money and time as they are treated faster at their local health facilities. Patients scheduled for major surgery can also be prepared at their local health facilities thereby reducing wards congestion.

Clinicians also gain from telemedicine as the involved doctor advises them on how to treat patients and this gives them an opportunity to carry out procedures that are normally done by a specialist such as biopsies. The service provided by Clicks Diagnostics also apparently allows doctors to easily consult with specialists from the United States and the United Kingdom for even more specialized advice.

The initiative has so far been rolled out to five areas which are Francistown, Tsabong, Maun, Serowe and Gaborone. Since the inception of telemedicine in Botswana, by end of August 2009, 54 cases have been consulted successfully. Due to the confidential nature of the health profession, all patients’ data that is transferred to the internet is kept anonymous. Patients are required to sign a consent form before any data is collected from them for usage in telemedicine.


Read this week's paper