Covid-19 Pandemic has made us face the new norms of life and adapt to new constraints. It has also portrayed the rifts in our healthcare infrastructure. As the pandemic recedes and its threat to the health of people is subsidizing, it is time to reflect and contemplate on root causes plaguing the health service delivery system of Pakistan, and to sculpt a strategy which focuses on “health for all” and the reformation of the health care system to stay alert and prepared for emerging pandemics. who telemedicine
Introduction of Telehealth
As technology has revolutionized every walk of life, it is high time to incorporate digital technology and telecare to Pakistan Health Care System. The rural and remote areas where medical facilities are scarce and primary health units are few, Telehealth is the viable solution for those areas as it will ensure quick access to medical services through remote consultations.
The idea behind Telehealth is to provide virtual care to people wherever they are by using information and communication technology. It is an effort to overcome geographical boundaries and accelerate the provision of health care service utilizing technology to exchange information in the prevention, diagnosis, management of the disease.
WHO recognizes the potential of digital technologies
WHO recognizes the potential of digital technologies and innovative techniques to advance the Sustainable Development Goals in Pakistan. WHO acknowledges the importance of investing in health projects for the healthcare awareness and disease prevention and control which strengthen the ailing health system by ameliorating the convenience, accessibility, quality and affordability of health services.
Government of Sindh telephonic monitoring mechanism during COVID-19
To support the Government of Sindh (GoS) in containing the spread of the novel coronavirus, WHO in collaboration with Aman Health Care Services initiated a telephonic monitoring mechanism to track the progress of home-isolated confirmed and suspected COVID-19 patients across Sindh. Through a call center, which is a remarkable step to reduce the direct contact between patients and clinicians, disadvantaged communities were provided quality virtual health and psycho-social services, even beyond the COVID-19 period.
It helped to track the progress of home-isolated confirmed and suspected COVID-19 patients and ensured care and support to the affected people in the comforts of their homes. As Covid-19 Pandemic curve is going downward, the focus of this project is now being transformed to target the provision of essential health services.
Another eminent initiative of WHO is the provision of telemedicine services in Punjab. WHO Pakistan and the Commission on Science and Technology for Sustainable Development in the South (COMSATS) partnered with the Ministry of Health Services, Regulations and Coordination and the federal government to conduct the training session for doctors and paramedics involved in providing telemedicine services on reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health (RMNCAH) which focused on skill development and capacity building of telemedicine providers.
Telemedicine is a milestone in healthcare
‘Telemedicine is the milestone which we have achieved today keeping in mind the pressure on Health system in Pakistan and exigency of the current situation’ remarked WHO Country Representative, Dr Palitha Mahipala at the launching of this training session.
In Sexual and Reproductive Health, telemedicine facilitates routine interface, perinatal checkups, antenatal ultrasounds, telepsychiatry, referral to complicated cases, nutritional deficiencies counselling and education of the patients. Telehealth uses Store and Forward technique mainly used for non-emergency cases in which patient information and digital images are stored and forwarded through emails, software and apps etc.
Similarly, it also uses face-to-face real-time consultations via audio/visual communication whereas in some cases it uses a hybrid technique which involves both the above-mentioned techniques.
‘Telemedicine purpose is to increase the outreach of the Health care system and to revolutionize the practices of Health Service delivery in Pakistan. In Pakistan where 72% of the population lives in rural areas and 28% in urban areas, the importance of telehealth is far more significant,’ NPO Ellen Thom told the audience.
Master trainers from the WHO trained participants, including some from COMSATS’ Tele-clinics, the Human Development Foundation (HDF) and Sehat Kahani, by using various demonstrative techniques, tools and technology.
For maternal and child healthcare services, this training focused on methods to improve the doctor-patient experience, capacity-building of doctors and laced them with new innovative techniques to interact with remote patients.
Implementation of telemedicine
Alia Shams, 3 months pregnant who lives in Iqbal town, Rawalpindi spoke to me over the phone and appreciated the health services she is getting through Telemedicine. When I asked her about the experience of Telemedicine she told me with a heavy voice that this service proves to be equivalent of Holy Grail for her, because she used to go to the clinic on public transport which is two hours away from her home for routine checkups.
She continued that it was becoming a gruelling task to visit a doctor with two young children whom she could not leave at home as there was no one to look after them (Her husband works in Lahore and visit her once a month). Further, she added that telemedicine service becomes a panacea for all her health problems during pregnancy.
The telehealth purpose is to provide the health services at the doorsteps and optimize the capacity of health care systems which are stressed with an overload of patients. But still, there is a long way to go in this regard and there is need for sustained and concerted efforts to connect all the far-flung areas with the telehealth providing forums for the provision of Standard Health Services within Pakistan.
The writer is an Islamabad-based writer who provides communications consultation to a various organizations.The views expressed in this article are the authors own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.