Use of Telemedicine to Deliver Global Medical Care

By Nathan Douthit

 

Telemedicine is an important developing field for global health. Its use has been endorsed by the World Health Organization (WHO), Medecins Sans Frontieres and multiple other national health services and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs). Telemedicine has multiple definitions, but the one endorsed by the WHO is:

 

The delivery of health care services, where distance is a critical factor, by all health care profes- sionals using information and communication technologies for the exchange of valid information for diagnosis, treatment and prevention of disease and injuries, research and evaluation, and for the continuing education of health care providers, all in the interests of advancing the health of individuals and their communities”. 1

 

One of the earliest recorded instances of telemedicine was the transmission of an electrocardiograph in 1906. However, recent applications include sharing of data for specialist assistance in diagnosis and management, education of healthcare professionals and patients, research on difficult to reach populations and even screening services for health monitoring and maintenance. Telemedicine certainly has applications in the developed world and in urban centres. However, the effective delivery of telemedicine can make an unprecedented impact in developing countries and rural areas.

 

In the case report, “Remote care of a patient with stroke in rural Trinidad: use of telemedicine to optimize global neurological care,” Reyes and Ramcharan describe “The use of… [telemedicine] for low-income countries to provide support for high-risk patients.” Their case specifically focuses on the application of teleneurology, or remote access to specialists in neurology. The patient described was seen in hospital by a neurologist, but on discharge home it was noted that the “patient’s home was located in a low income village 60 km away from the GP[general practitioner’s] office.” In order to continue monitoring the patient for improvement, the patient’s 24 hour caregiver

 

“[W]as initially trained by the GP to collect, process and transmit the patient’s data by the use of a smart phone and a laptop with internet access. The GP and the neurologist also used similar technology.

 

This allowed medical care to be provided to the patient in a timely fashion. The caregiver was educated to recognize seizures, falls, neurogenic bladder, and dysphasia.

 

Once the event was recognised, the caregiver called on the GP assistance over a phone call and/or via email. The GP instructed the caregiver on first aid actions for the… event in order to prevent further complication… [and, if necessary, arranged] transportation of the patient to the nearest health facility available. Concurrently, the GP called on the senior neurologist for remote assistance…. The GP coordinated initial management of the complicated patient with the caregiver, paramedics and other doctors remotely…. The GP saw the patient directly to verify all instructions were carried out correctly, but there was no need for the neurologist to examine the patient for those reasons.

 

The authors conclude that this treatment model, “[S]uggest[s] that improved access to primary, secondary and tertiary levels of neurological care in remote and underserved regions of the world is a feasible way forward.” They also correctly remind us that, “This is a global issue that requires urgent consensus and actions by stakeholders.

 

In light of this, BMJ Case Reports invites authors to publish cases regarding the trials and successes of telemedicine in delivering medicine in difficult to reach areas. Global health case reports can emphasize:

 

-successful models of management, such as the one above

-difficulties in implementing telemedicine due to cultural, geographical or technical constraints

-innovative uses of telemedicine

-the use of telemedicine across linguistic, cultural, ethnic and geopolitical barriers

 

Manuscripts may be submitted by students, physicians, nurses or other medical professionals to BMJ Case Reports. For more information, review the blog on how to write a global health case report.

 

Read more about telemedicine at BMJCR:

 

Gestational trophoblastic disease in a Greenlandic Inuit: diagnosis and treatment in a remote area.

 

Selected References on telemedicine from other sources:

  1. World Health Organization. Telemedicine: opportunities and developments in member states. Report on the second global survey on eHealth. World Health Organization:Geneva ; 2010.

 

-Medecins Sans Frontieres. MSF Telemedicine Brings Care to Patients in Remote Areas [Internet]. MSF USA: New York; 2016 June [cited Aug 10 2017]. Available from: http://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/article/msf-telemedicine-brings-care-patients-remote-areas

 

-Kasemsap K. The importance of telemedicine in global health care. InHandbook of research on healthcare administration and management 2017 (pp. 157-177). IGI Global.

 

-Silva BM, Rodrigues JJ, de la Torre Díez I, López-Coronado M, Saleem K. Mobile-health: A review of current state in 2015. Journal of biomedical informatics. 2015 Aug 31;56:265-72.

 

-Gornall J. Does telemedicine deserve the Green light? BMJ 2012;345:e4622.