This article, a resource Professor Ports gave to my “Health in ICT” presentation group, is a good case study on the topic of telemedicine. Telemedicine is defined as a healthcare delivery technology where physicians examine patients from distant locations using information technologies. It has been growing in popularity for many reasons because:
- there is a clear need/shortage of physicians
- poor infrastructure of clinics in general and access to them
- physician communication can be increased
As I mentioned in my sector presentation, sub-saharan Africa has less than 10 doctors per 100,000 people. In Ethiopia, for example, there are only 38 radiologists nation-wide, and 30 of them are in the nation’s capital. The country’s lack of infrastructure makes it difficult to provide healthcare as well, and often times when clinics are set-up in rural areas they are ill-equipped, according to the WHO. Since its inception, telemedicine has been able to reduce costs and provide optimal utilization of the healthcare system in many countries. This case study illuminates how telemedicine has been beneficial for cardiac patients, since they would not need to factor in as many travel costs. Other possible benefits of telemedicine may include:
- reduced direct and indirect costs to the healthcare sector, patients and providers
- enhanced equality among citizens, in terms of access to special medical services
- improved cooperation between specialized care and primary healthcare centers
- promote the proficiency of physicians and other healthcare practitioners through ICT trainings and conferences
There are many examples of telemedicine in Ethiopia and have been supported by many international organizations and NGOs. There are many stakeholders involved, including the patients, doctors, universities , IT workers, and government and development workers.
While it is true that telemedicine has made significant contributions to healthcare sector of Ethiopia, many major challenges do exist. There are cultural, economic, organizational and technical issues. One example is that, since there are not many specialists in the country to begin with, they do not have much time to set up these tele-sessions. The technologies might also be difficult for the doctors to use. Other obvious barriers to this method of healthcare include the absence of affordable and reliable telecommunications and the power infrastructure. Internet also costs a good deal of money, and might be delayed. With all of these challenges, there must be a strong commitment in order to make telemedicine more mainstream. In this article’s abstract it was expressed that the universities and higher education have a great role in assisting with these sorts of initiatives. How do you think universities can make lasting contributions to projects such as these? What do envision as the future of telemedicine?