FOR patients as well as health practitioners, telemedicine or the providing of healthcare
from a distance can greatly improve the level of care administered and received,
particularly in rural areas. It gives practitioners the ability to keep up to date with
patients’ conditions outside of a consultation and to get advice quickly and easily from
other specialists. Dr Rajeev Rao Eashwari, the director of eHealth at the KwaZulu-Natal
department of health, said teleconsultations are a way of giving a second opinion to
rural practitioners. Using telemedicine nurses practising in clinics can get advice from
doctors and doctors in district hospitals can contact specialists. He was speaking during
discussions at the Healthcare Innovation Summit in Sandton last week.
The benefit of using telemedicine is that a patient would be more satisfied with their healthcare
experience because they would get immediate attention closer to their home or work. It
also helps to alleviate issues of cost, large distances between patients and healthcare
facilities and practitioners, lack of hospital beds, limited resources at healthcare facilities
and staff shortages. KZN, which is the only province with a directorate for eHealth has
achieved level one of the seven levels of a telemedicine adoption model, which is to use
technology, such as video conferencing, to support provider-to-provider consults and
A project the department has embarked on in association with the University of KZN
uses video conferencing, which can be linked to five venues simultaneously, for elearning.
Teleradiology is being used in 12 hospitals and digitised images and reports are
received in real time. In some areas, practitioners have been given computers and
connect to their seniors in urban hospitals between 12am and 2pm daily to get advice.
Eashwari said the department is proposing a teleconsultation room in every hospital. Dr
Robert Selepe, the executive clinical transformation officer at Tempilo Healthcare
Group, said telemedicine will give us the cutting edge to get data, know if the treatment
is working, adjust where we need to and understand populations. He said a system in
the US saw doctors monitoring how their patients were doing and being rated on their
performance. Despite this, Elliot Sack, a director at eHealth Group pointed out that
doctors were reluctant to assimilate technology because they felt it would complicate
their lives. He said although the adoption of robotic technology globally was immense,
South Africa remained reluctant. But, he said, telemedicine will help.
It will increase functionality and reduce geographical distances: a specialist can see a patient anytime, anywhere; patients will connect with physicians via iPads or tablets. Eashwari added
that we need to use technology due to the lack of human resources and this will make
life easier by working smarter, not harder.
Gabi Falanga: The Star, 30 August 2016