Telehealth: Transformation of healthcare in BD
Telemedicine (or telehealth), is defined by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) as the use of technology to provide and support healthcare at a distance. In the light of covid-19, telehealth has covered a large part of the healthcare landscape and is one innovation that took the lead in transforming healthcare now and maybe becomes a post-covid reality for the longest time to come. Clinicians have made an effort to operate technology-based systems to assist patients in a virtual setting for providing curative treatment and counselling services.
Telemedicine has become a house-hold term during this pandemic. Although the concept of telemedicine is not entirely new and practices began in Bangladesh through the Center for Rehabilitation of Paralyzed (CRP) with the funding of the Swinfen Charitable Trust of the UK in 1999. This pandemic has led to its increasing acceptance for telemedicine and its subsequent adoption at a rocket speed.
Not having to wait in long waiting lines for a consultation with a doctor, not having to deal with the anxiety i.e. iatrophobia, a condition in which an otherwise normal blood pressure soars in the presence of a doctor and being able to access a doctor from the comfort of your home seem like inviting reasons for one to adopt telemedicine. While these are basic perks of telemedicine, it is important to highlight that telehealth as a whole is the key to prevent and control this pandemic.
Telehealth is bridging the gap between patients and physicians which in turn enables everyone, especially those who have symptoms and are a potential source of spreading infections, to stay at home. This will not only cause a drastic reduction in the risk of acquiring HAI (Hospital Acquired Infections) but also reduce the speed at which the virus spreads in the populations and the front liners. Also, increasing use and adoption of telehealth services will reduce the pressure on emergency rooms and hospitals.
Patients who are suffering from other medical ailments and chronic diseases during this time can obtain their routine care and treatment from home, these patients are those who would be classified as a high-risk group, susceptible to contracting the virus.
Bangladesh has only 5.3 doctors per 10,000 people and front liners and healthcare service providers are not immune to Covid-19. Even after IPC (Infection Prevention and Control) protocols and PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) a high number of health workers have been infected by Covid-19 in Bangladesh and Worldwide so far.In situations where they end up contracting the virus followed by going into quarantine but are still willing to virtually "see" their patients, telemedicine can help them provide treatment without the risk of transferring the infection to them. This in turn fills up the gap to a certain extent which otherwise would have been void had the doctor completely been unable to assist the patients, resulting in the loss of healthcare workforce.
As per the information on the DGHS website, it states that high quality telemedicine service has been provided in different levels of hospitals all over the country. Among these, there are 2 specialized hospitals (Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University and National Institute of Cardiovascular Diseases), 3 district hospitals (Shatkhira, Nilphamari and Gopalganj) and 3 sub-district hospitals (Pirgonj, Dakope and Debhata). Through this service, admitted patients in district and sub-district level hospitals can take suggestions from the doctors of specialized hospitals without need for visiting the higher level hospitals.
Shastho Batayon has been providing services through mobile phones to the general population efficiently since 2015. This is an initiative by the Government of Bangladesh together with Synesis IT. The services provided by calling on this helpline would include connecting a patient to an appropriate doctor, provide information about government hospitals, doctors or health services together with their phone numbers. At present they also provide information regardingthe Covid-19 vaccine. Also any complaint about hospitals can be made through this helpline. Shastho Batayon is now functioning as a digital hospital and has shown a lot of progress in providing healthcare service during the Corona period.Shastho Batayon ,16263, is a successful initiative playing a very important role in digitalizing the health services of the country.
GrameenPhone runs a "Dial 789" service that uses mobile phones for consultancy purposes at district and upazila levels. This is very effective in suggesting OTC (over the counter) medicine and has more reach since there are no internet requirements. "Jeeon" has been one of the key players in the telemedicine industry for some too. They entered the market by signing an agreement with Paper fly. Paperfly will deliver life-saving medicine to remote areas pharmacies of the country as a partner of Jeeon.
Other than these, a number of health-tech start-ups such as Doctorola, Digital Health, Praava health, Maya, Bangla meds and NRB patient care have helped digitalize healthcare.Development and acceptanceof innovative healthcare apps which may act as a safety net for people suffering from mental illness, social isolation andaddress other health conditions will be a necessary step to further transform healthcare services.
While we see that telemedicine is shaping the future of the health industry and there are a number of advantages telehealthpossess, the interpersonal aspect remains a question. Do patients feel the same sense of convenience and peace of mind after they have been assessed by a doctor virtually? To solve this problem is ArtificialIntelligence the answer? Can AI conjure up holographic representations of doctors in the near future?
Written by Dr. Sahar Raza is Senior Business Development Officer, Eminence Associates for Social Development.