Since 1998, the UP College of Medicine, through the National Telehealth Center (NTHC), has been using ICT to improve and develop health care services in rural areas in the country. Under the Telemedicine program, a doctor, nurse, or health worker in a remote area, through the use of email, SMS, or video conferencing, can refer a medical case to the NTHC. This telereferral is forwarded by the NTHC to a medical specialist in UP PGH, who makes his or her diagnosis or opinion on the case, which information is sent back to the remote doctor.
The basic advantage is that unusual or complicated medical cases in rural areas, which the remote doctor or health worker has little or no knowledge of, can benefit from the knowledge and expertise of PGH doctors and specialists. However, the program also requires or assumes many things. One of these is that far-flung areas, to be able to participate in the Telemedicine program, must have access to appropriate ICT infrastructure, such as telephone lines, cell sites, and the internet. Another is that the health workers, nurses, or doctors at the ground must be able to make proper electronic documentation of medical cases. This is especially important given that the specialist does not personally examine the patient, but only relies or depends upon whatever is forwarded to him or her. Vital information could be missed out or lost in the telereferral process. Thus, training not only in health care or medical equipment, but also in the use of computers, the internet, and mobile technology is a must.
However, government still needs to address the basic problem that many remote areas in the country do not have enough doctors or health care workers in the first place. This is vital for the current Telemedicine program being implemented by NTHC. There is yet no direct link between the patient and the specialist who is in Manila. A lot still depends on the people working on the ground.
A bill has already been filed in Congress providing for telemedicine equipment for 4th to 6th class municipalities in the country. It is hoped that more laws and policies will be made to improve the telehealth or telemedicine system in the country.
C M Prado, Entry # 11