Posted by : Posted on : 02-Apr-2020

Technology advances and the advent of Telehealth services.

Coronavirus can have serious consequences for the elderly and a reason why older people in many countries are being told to exercise strict self-isolation at home.

Being elderly myself I have been staying indoors, ‘as the doctor ordered,’ but faced some personal issues arising from ‘self isolation’ that must be equally concerning to many of my age group when needing to eat or consult a doctor.

I consider myself not ‘savvy’ enough to understand Smart phones and the technology advances they bring but, nevertheless have come to be grateful to a friend for having one.

I’ll explain, I needed to get some groceries but not able to get out I asked my friend for advice.  He told me it was not a problem and used the WhatsApp on his phone to get in touch with a local Supermarket and within a couple of days I had what I needed delivered to the door of my apartment.

I then began to consider the prospects for Telehealth using information technology and modern communications.

I was surprised to discover Telehealth consultations are already conducted over the telephone or via video conferencing apps such as Zoom, WhatsApp, Skype and FaceTime on phones, tablets or computers in Australia Such a practice allows a patient and practitioner to interact safely and minimise potential transmission of the coronavirus.

Doctors diagnose safely from home or office and preserve vital protective supplies such as masks and gowns.

Any prescriptions can be sent to the patient’s preferred pharmacy.

In Australia there is a payment method called bulk-billing which I understand is used to pay for the doctors services using Telehealth, including payment for medicine supplied by way of the prescription sent to one’s pharmacy.

“Telehealth practices are taking the pressure off hospitals and emergency departments and allow people to access essential health services in their home.

With time on my hands, I then began to consider the application of new technology and Telehealth in the context of rural health situations in the developing world, including the Solomon Islands.

I spent several years as a policeman in five different countries in Africa and, where in those days,’ rural people had no direct access to primary and secondary health care with no brick and mortar hospitals.  It is my understanding there remains a dire need for health services in the same countries with the exception of Kenya where the new technology brought about by the introduction of Smart phones has helped to improve rural health care by way of Telehealth practices.

I thought, too, of the current situation regarding rural health care and services in India where I believe some 700 million Indians lack adequate health services.

Of late I understand simple video conferencing in India has given way to home visits by a doctor and allowed for teleconsultations.

With the exponential growth in Information and Communication Technology, India may eventually show the way to achieve quality, affordable, accessible health care to everyone, anytime, anywhere making distance meaningless.

Of course all I have written so far, brings me to considering the situation in the Solomon Islands where the centres of medical experience and specialist knowledge reside in just a few places such as at the National Referral Hospital (NRH) and in two or three provincial hospitals, but for the greater majority of Solomon Islanders health services are considered inadequate.

It was my understanding that by now high speed internet services were expected to be up and running in the Solomons.

Telekom had said some time ago, quote:

 "Improvements to Internet services are expected with both the build-out of a new submarine cable known as the Coral Sea Cable System which will link PNG to the Solomon Islands, with a connecting cable to the Australian (Sydney) landing station. In addition, the planned launch of the Kacific-1 satellite in late 2019 should also improve broadband satellite capacity for the Solomon Islands.

“In recent years, the country has stabilised both politically and economically – and this, along with improvements to mobile infrastructure – has led to a sharp rise in mobile penetration.

“Recent 3G mobile network expansions and upgrades by the two major operators, Our Telekom (operating as Breeze) and Bmobile-Vodafone, are improving mobile services and in turn driving uptake, including an increase in mobile broadband subscriptions. While the first 4G LTE services were launched in late 2017 in the capital Honiara; it is still 3G, and in many cases 2G, which is the main source of mobile telephony.

“Various international organisations such as The World Bank and Asian Development Bank have taken a special interest in seeing communication services improved in both the Solomon Islands and Pacific region in general.

“The Australian government is assisting by providing the majority of funding for the new submarine cable system, with contributions and support also coming from both governments from the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea”

I must confess living outside the country, I don’t know the situation regarding the much promised broadband internet services and advanced connectivity available in the Solomon Islands but, at a guess, I am tending to think broadband services are not yet fully operational.

Even if such services are now on stream, so to say, it could be some considerable time, although I hope to be corrected, before the possibility of Telehealth practices could be seriously considered for the benefit of the rural communities in the Solomon Islands, and also to ease the strain on the local Ministry of Health and Medical Services.

Yours sincerely

 Frank Short

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