SEATTLE — About 83.5 percent of the people in poverty live in rural locations, which presents multiple challenges, specifically in connecting these people with essential services and the quality of life available to those in bigger cities. That’s why innovations like telemedicine are a great stepping stone for improving health services provided in rural areas. Telemedicine is the use of electronic communications in healthcare from teleconferencing to image sharing in order to administer clinical services to a patient. Here are four ways that telemedicine is improving lives around the world.
Four Ways that Telemedicine is Improving Lives
- Telemedicine can connect thousands of patients in the developing world to better and more abundant healthcare services. This is needed in areas where there are not enough physicians to fit the population, access to medication is difficult or when physicians and patients in rural villages require the assistance of a specialist. There are many companies and charities working to make telemedicine more accessible. In Kenya, Liquid Telecom uses its high-speed network to connect the largest hospital in Mombasa to seven outreach centers in the coastal region. In areas where people cannot afford even basic medication, it is crucial to eliminate the costs of bus fares or EMS services. Another solution is the UK-based Swinfen Charitable Trust Telemedicine Network whose free service requires nothing but the internet to connect health professionals to high-quality physician specialists. The network now includes 193 referring hospitals and clinics from more than 60 countries.
- Women benefit from telemedicine through easier access to OB-GYNs for maternal and neonatal care. Around 830 women died of pregnancy complications each day in 2015. Even where there are limited resources, there is a high prevalence of mobile phones, which gives rise to greater eHealth interventions in areas such as sub-Saharan Africa. Mobile applications are one of the many ways that telemedicine is improving lives. That’s why it’s especially important to improve services supporting mobile devices in developing countries. One example is called Gifted Mom, a text-messaging application that gives no-cost health advice from doctors to women in rural villages across the country of Cameroon. The app is ambitious, expecting to reduce the maternal mortality rate in Africa by at least 70 percent. One of the most promising solutions is the Impilo Initiative, a game-breaking plan to reach women throughout South Africa by partnering with telemedicine platforms. The initiative provides women with access to cellular technology as well as education on how to access telemedicine services.
- Preventing infant blindness is one of the many ways that telemedicine is improving lives. Retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) is the leading cause of preventable infant blindness. In India, more than 8 percent of the 30 million births annually are at risk for blindness from ROP. The reason ROP is such an epidemic in places like India is because of a difficulty in early, prompt screening. The smaller the baby is at birth, the more likely they are to develop ROP. What’s worse is that the window of opportunity for treatment is only about 72 hours. That’s why telemedicine is crucial in dealing with high numbers of people. The National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) in Karnataka, India has taken on the challenge of screening 250,000 premature babies a month in remote areas. Technicians drive vehicles with retinal cameras to the location, capture the images and upload them onto the telePACS software where feedback is delivered from qualified physicians in a timely matter, thus improving the quality of life for those children.
- Telemedicine can help treat and prevent the spread of HIV. About 36.9 million people are living with HIV, and an estimated 66 percent of those people live in sub-Saharan Africa. AIDs has raised death rates in adults from ages of 20 and 49 by about twenty years. That’s why it’s crucial that telemedicine reaches the rural communities of Africa. One example is in the tiny nation of Lesotho where almost 25 percent of its two million people are HIV positive. While this number seems overwhelming, there is hope with solutions that provide urgent and accessible medical care to the population. One example is the Vodafone Foundation. They partnered with the Lesotho Ministry of Health to provide a mobile application where healthcare workers can provide onsite HIV testing, then register those testing positive into the mobile database. This way, patients can keep in touch with healthcare professionals as well as tap into M-Pesa, a money service, to pay for transportation to the nearest clinic.
Today, there are dozens of mobile health programs focusing on public health for vulnerable populations. These four ways that telemedicine is improving lives are just a few examples; there is no shortage of other situations where it has been effective. Telemedicine has helped health workers access mobile programs to identify and treat rabies. It also played a huge role in containing the Ebola outbreak in 2014. It’s important that telemedicine gets the research and funding needed in order to ensure that the world’s poorest communities have access to the care they need.
– Isadora Savage