"Where Healthcare Meets Information Technology"

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Background

For many underserved communities, telehealth holds out great promise; at times, it is the only way to reach medical care to communities in underprivileged, distant or inaccessible areas. While many pilots have been implemented and have shown the feasibility of telehealth as a viable and appropriate mechanism, very few implementations have scaled up.

Method

This e-poster analyses the outcomes of three telehealth projects.

In Bhutan, a pilot used TV whitespace for bandwidth and a containerised ehealth centre. a project in Mongolia focussed on maternal and new born health. In Karnataka, a rural empowerment pilot included telehealth as well.

Results

All of these projects were successful in different ways. The Bhutan pilot showed that alternate technologies such as TV whitespaces are a good way to provide bandwidth to underserved rural populations. “Plug and play” equipment reduces setup time and makes support easier. The implementation in Mongolia was able to save many women’s lives and improve local case management. In rural Karnataka, the pilot showed that it is possible to achieve financial viability when telehealth is part of a bouquet of ICT-based services. In all cases, government involvement and support were important.

Despite these successes, not many implementations have scaled up. The reasons include financial viability, poor infrastructure and the lack of primary healthcare systems and supply chain.

Conclusion

Technology is only one aspect of an effective telehealth implementation. There has to be a focus on integration of the entire eco-system including systems and processes, involvement of patients, data security, policies and financial viability. The technology and processes have to be simple, and there should be adequate technology support and skills. Lastly, telehealth has to complement other parts of the healthcare system. The government must commit itself to universal health coverage as well.

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