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Telemedicine isn’t really a modern or difficult technology. The first telemedicine consultation most likely occurred about the time the telephone was invented. Even today, telephone consultations between patients and health providers are possibly the most common form of teleconsultation.

Over the last two decades, there has been a massive explosion of Information and Communication Technologies.  From simple telephone lines to cell phone networks and satellite communication, communication networks have reached almost every corner of Ghana.

Today, the average ten-year-old Ghanaian, wherever they find themselves, own a smartphone and are very active on social media. This proves indubitably that technology has helped make the world a global village. In essence, telemedicine is a remote medical practice that employs Information and Communication Technologies to bridge the gap between the parties concerned.

Telemedicine is a general term that refers to a variety of medical applications and facilities. Different providers and customers are involved in each component. It’s helpful to differentiate between the treatment to be provided and the distribution methods to better understand telemedicine.

Some already existing telemedicine services may include specialist referral services, primary patient consultations, remote patients monitoring, and many more. The delivery mechanism of these services includes network programs, point-to-point connections, web-based, messaging-based, and others. In all this, the involved partners needed to make this delivery a success can include specialists, general health professionals, patients, etc.

In the subsequent paragraphs, I will be throwing light on the relevance of telemedicine in today’s world. In Ghana, statistics show that the doctor-to-patient ratio is 1:10,450, and you will agree with me that this is indeed a horrid realization. In this light, telemedicine has come to the rescue.  Specialist services are primarily concentrated in a few urban areas, and the distribution of health professionals is also very unequal.

Rural doctors and nurses, who represent the majority of the population, do not have access to reliable health information. Due to long distances and poor roads, health services are usually difficult to access. Many of these drawbacks could be overcome with the aid of telemedicine. It has the potential to benefit rural health workers and their patients in a variety of ways. Telemedicine may help determine a diagnosis and a recovery plan for a variety of common health problems.

Telemedicine can help with triage decisions by determining if a patient needs to be physically referred. In situations where patients have to be evacuated out of the country, the cost of transportation to the referral center is often borne by the patient, and many patients often cannot afford to fly to a higher level of care.

Taking Ghana for example, where the minimum wage is 12 Ghana cedis, how can the average Ghanaian seek medical help under such conditions? Hence, the need for telemedicine. Telemedicine also allows for continuous medical education in remote areas, which would lead to better local health care delivery. ICTs have the potential to allow access to relevant and up-to-date health information.

After face-to-face consultations, health professionals can follow up on the patients’ recovery journey with ease. Factors such as transportation and waiting in long queues at health centers are hence eliminated. To sum up, ICTs can help clinics improve their administrative processes, freeing up human resources to spend with patients. With the help of telecommunication, the stress sometimes associated with obtaining a hospital card can be avoided, and also various health professionals handling a particular patient can share among themselves the patients’ medical history with ease from the comfort of their homes.

To conclude, telemedicine has the potential to be a long-term solution in today’s world. It can contribute to the growth of healthcare providers’ expertise and increases their ability to deal with medical issues on both local and international levels. This along with the ability to enhance referral planning is the most significant way that telemedicine will lead to the overall strengthening of health care systems.

References

[1] American Telemedicine Association. Definition of telemedicine.

http://www.atmeda.org/news/definition.html.

[2] B. Aronson. Improving online access to medical information for low-income countries.

N Engl J Med, 350(10):966–968.

Source:
Nana Adwoa Bondzie

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