Improved healthcare through telemedicine and e-health

06 April 2020 | Opinion

Windhoek • Kehad Snydewel
As the lockdown starts to take its toll, we are comforted by the fact that we are doing this for our collective health and to minimise the threat and spread of the Coronavirus.
Covid-19 has us all in its grip and is making us reassess the very fabric of our everyday life.
As different countries have experienced different rates of infections, deaths and self-isolation, one thing has become clear: The over-burdening of healthcare workers, hospitals and the whole infrastructure that is the medical sector cannot sustain the Covid-19 onslaught for much longer.
How, then will people, governments, institutions and countries cope?
One solution is to start leveraging technology where possible in the healthcare space. Especially with the need for quarantine, self-isolation and social distancing, e-health applications and implementation becomes key. Not just to stop infections, but think of all the people stuck at home who have other ailments or need to see their medical professionals.

Key areas
Areas where technology can assist in the fight against Covid-19 include:
• Create an online platform where users can connect to their doctors to conduct remote video or telephone consultations, thereby engaging in the social distancing and self-solation practises and cutting down on unnecessary travel to your doctor or hospital and minimising exposure.
• Making tools available and accessible that allow healthcare providers to digitally communicate with patients through video conferences, community engagement tools, online bookings and online form. This can be the first online engagement between patients and healthcare providers. This will screen patients prior to consultation or even as part of the consultation.
• GPs and their patients can access video conferencing applications via their computer, tablet or phone app. The appointment is set up and scheduled in the same way as a face-to-face consultation, with an allocated time slot and active link to join the consultation. Once all parties have joined the video conference, they can see and hear each other through the microphone and camera on their devices. We already do this in our personal lives through FaceTime or WhatsApp for example, through a secure and safe connection, the healthcare sector can significantly unburden their resources by doing the same.
• The technology is there and Namibian hospitals and doctors can be set up to use it at short notice.
• This can also be the basis of creating secure electronic medical records for patients to track diagnoses and treatments, allowing doctors, specialists and hospitals to exchange medical information securely, privately and within a matter of seconds across the country.
• This platform can communicate important and reliable information to patients to get rid of all the fake news. Through dedicated apps patients are informed, bringing real and up to date information to them when they need it most.
• Roll out online Covid-19 patient pre-appointment screening platform for practices and health facilities across the country. These practices will be able to refer the patient to facilities equipped to deal with coronavirus, so they can serve directly online those patients that may be at risk or refuse online booking requiring the patient to call the practice
• Privacy and confidentiality of patient information is key and remote consultations must avoid patient identity being exposed. With the right firewalls, secure networks and cloud-enabled storage, the healthcare sector can be transformed to become more efficient.
It is essential that we embrace technology in the healthcare sector. Not only for efficiency, but also to protect the vital, valuable and heroic healthcare workers. Less direct contact means less exposure.
Since Namibia is investing heavily into healthcare and hospitals, e-health should be a major part of this investment and upgrading drive. It is the only way in which this virus can be challenged and Namibia’s medical sector can be future-ready.
In the meantime it is important to adhere to all the advice given and to listen to government when it comes to precautions to take against Covid-19.
*Kehad Snydewel is the managing director of Green Enterprise Solutions.

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