Telemedicine Keeps the Doctor Away

Telemedicine is a relatively new concept, and in the world of internet, it develops with lightning speed. It’s safe to assume that you’re reading this on either your laptop, tablet or smartphone, right? Whichever one of the three it is, you’re accessing this information online and didn’t have to move much more than a finger. Ironically, this article may have been written for those who cannot even access it. Those without computers. Those that need to plan their visits to the doctor weeks in advance. Those that need to save enough money to pay for a taxi that may arrive too late to save their life. But together with the inevitability of problems, are the inevitability of solutions. Telemedicine is the use of telecommunication and information technology to provide clinical health care from a distance.

Technology has the power to make the world smaller. When implemented properly, technology can connect us to the most basic of our needs that sit right at the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy.

When it comes to health care, this technology is Telemedicine.

Telemedicine exists to serve the portion of our population that cannot just jump into their car and drive to the nearest private hospital. It exists to help those who are demographically disadvantaged.

Health information systems such as Electronic Healthcare records and Telemedicine have been identified as the most suitable solutions to alleviate the disparity between rural and urban health care services. These healthcare management systems can provide the necessary tools that capture, store, process and communicate information to the relevant and appropriate decision makers that coordinate health care at individual and population levels.

Telemedicine, first introduced in South Africa in 1997, directly translates to medicine at a distance. The core aim of Telemedicine is to increase the accessibility of specialised health care in rural areas that have not yet been reached by the sophisticated health care that most readers of this article are so used to already. Telemedicine can eliminate the need to travel long distances for adequate care while reducing waiting times and transportation costs alike.

With more than R15 million being invested in various Telemedicine projects in recent years, this system has become an integral part of our Department of Health’s E-health plan. But despite these efforts, typically South African problems have stunted this potential growth with unreliable technology and frequent interruptions of electricity supply, poor connectivity and low bandwidth. An additional factor, and perhaps one of the most threatening obstacles for the successful implementation of Telemedicine in our country is user acceptance. This can be greatly attributed to the lack of knowledge and awareness regarding Telemedicine by South African nurses and health care workers, making users of the system apprehensive and resulting in less frequent implementation. This poor uptake of Telemedicine is, however, not unique to South Africa, with many authors reporting similar results in other developing countries (Mars 2012; Ovretveit et al. 2007; Medicins Sans Frontiers 2007).

While this technology is used across the world to expand, assist and enhance health care activities, it is not a substitute for health care workers. In this current age of digital technology and social networking, Telemedicine is a very promising and inspiring technology, as long as its implementation’s core aim is to enhance personal relationships rather than replace them.


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