THE COMBINATION of medical knowledge with information knowledge is one of the most fascinating scientific and disciplinary breakthroughs of our time and may well lead to cultural changes and new individual and collective attitudes, competences, communication and cooperation in fighting or preventing disease, in protecting or enhancing health and in promoting wellness. As far as health information, health-care, and health communication is concerned, the internet already provides a wealth of information and advices, establishes new cyberspace communities concerned with health and health care, and allow for distributing previously privileged medical knowledge 24 hours, 7 days a week, accessible around the globe.
In 1994, a multi-disciplinary group of young professional from 24 different countries gathered and wrote a visionary report entitled, “Global Access Telehealth and Education System” (GATES). This report detailed how to utilize information and communication technology (ICT) to provide health and education services to the entire world, particularly in developing countries.
Telemedicine (also called “telemedicine” or “electronic health”), enables medical professionals to assess, diagnose and treat patients in remote sites using telecommunications technology. Telemedicine allows patients in remote locations to access the medical expertise quickly, effectively and without traveling. Telemedicine enables more efficient use of limited resources and experts who can “see” patients in multiple locations, if necessary, without leaving their facility.
Developing countries face various problems in the provision of medical service and health-care. Many developing countries have inadequate health-care and medical services and they also suffer from shortage of doctors and health-care professionals. Telehealth is a relatively newer concept as far as most of the developing countries are concerned. It is fast gaining popularity and is being reckoned as one of the befitting means to rendering health-care services cost effectively and to a wider geographic spread.
In developed and developing, telemedicine offers a low cost solution that provides remote assistance when and where appropriate. The use of telemedicine is beyond buildings and facilities without adding staff. Telemedicine also reduces isolation that clinicians can experience in small medical facilities in distant locations. Telemedicine enables the practitioner and clinical experts to consult with colleagues if necessary. Telemedicine allows them to participate in a round, and educational opportunities, as a rule, they do not need to travel and time away from their patients.
It is imperative to take advantage of the present day technologies, especially the information communication technologies (ICTs), which have enormous potential to providing health-care. Telehealth represents a new approach to health-care, with the potential for improving accessibility and reducing cost. Telehealth can be defined as “the use of information and communication technology to deliver health services and exchange health information when distance separates the participants”. There are many potential benefits of telehealth that can be divided into benefits for the patient, remote health-care provider, central health-care provider.
Telehealth facility benefits the patients in terms of; improve access to medical specialists, more accurate and quick diagnosis and treatment, reduce travel, decrease stress, and decrease cost (travel, meals, accommodation etc.).
For remote health-care providers’ telehealth benefits are; improve access to medical specialists, increase confidence in management, increase opportunities for education, decrease professional isolation, provide opportunity for virtual meetings, and collaborative research.
For central health-care providers’ telehealth facilitates for; decrease need to travel, improve screening of patients, improve follow-up, increase educational opportunities, provide opportunity for virtual meetings, and collaborative research as well.
Telehealth solution can have real, short-term improvement at many levels, including a direct advantage to patients. Reductions in medical error, the realization of costs savings, real-time monitoring of public health incidents and the provision of validated data and information for health system decision and policy making are just some of these benefits. However, there is an ongoing need to support research that demonstrates these benefits within the framework of cost-benefit analysis in order to justify the often significant up-front costs associated with the implementation of comprehensive, system-wide telehealth solutions.
This, of course, is particularly significant in the context of developing countries with limited financial resources and telecommunications infrastructure. Technologists believe that what is now required is the development of a rigorous research methodology that is relevant and applicable to the context of developing nations. Such a methodology must be based on an applied research modality in which the fundamentals of the work address real and significant issues of human health as they influence the development process.
The needs of people living in developing countries are profound. Their pursuit of equity and full participation in global society faces enormous hurdles but, ultimately, is firmly dependent on a healthy society will full access to effective health-care. The technologists are committed to finding a way that ICT can achieve this.