Government says it is exploring ways to develop functional telecommunications infrastructure to support telemedicine health care applications nationwide to reduce healthcare costs and enhance efficient patient management. Health and Child Care Ministry epidemiologist Dr Portia Manangazira told participants at a two day E-Tech expo conference which opened in Harare on Thursday that Government was mulling ways to build the foundation needed to support the long-term development, adoption, and utilisation of telemedicine.
“We can reduce the loss of lives if we promote telemedicine,” she said.
“Many people are dying while on their way to get treatment in urban areas.
“With telemedicine we want to see the movement of information from perhaps a clinic in the rural area to a hospital in the urban area to save the lives of critical patients.
“We can reduce costs and save lives.”
Telemedicine is an ICT-based health care model which can be used as a tool for providing specialist medical attention to patients in any type of medical institution, especially remote rural areas with marginal or no power or telephone connection, using off-site specialists.
This model, which is being promoted in Zimbabwe and most other African countries aims to identify and co-ordinate the use of technology for improved access to and promoting efficient delivery of cost-effective public health care systems.
“For example someone in Mudzi might have a condition, there is no need for them to travel all the way to Harare to see a specialist but there are certain communication technologies that can be used to convey message on what to do with the patient and then lab tests or x-rays can be taken from where they are and be sent to Harare which saves money and time,” Dr Manangazira said.
She said his ministry had so far managed to put mobile devices in 1 200 health facilities out of 1 500 remote areas to improve health administration and connectivity within the health sector.
This, the epidemiologist said, had improved distribution and reduced cost of healthcare costs.
“Patient management is more efficient and also directed by the specialist that tends to be located centrally.
“There are also conditions that are costly and use many resources or even conditions that are infectious where patients can actually be infected by the staff or have their immune system compromised.
“For example patients on cancer treatment or those on renal dialysis, so if we were then to implement telemedicine, it would then mean that within the ICU setting or high dependency area you minimise in and out movement of persons that are attending the patient,” Dr Manangazira said.
She also said her ministry is in process of coming up with a unique patient identifier, an online document that enable a patient to have an identity that shows their medical history.
Telemedicine was already being implemented at Parirenyatwa Hospital under the Pan African E-network programme which allow doctors to interact through the internet.
The health sector in Zimbabwe and most African countries still lags behind other sectors in application of these new technologies.
ICT experts say basic applications such as electronic medical records, hospital information systems, local networks for sharing and distributing information among health workers, provision of remote diagnostics via telemedicine, and community health information systems for local, regional and national services have not been developed in Africa.
The expo was being held under the theme: “The Internet of Things and Everything.”