Innovation in health practice has never been given so much attention as it is now, since the onset of the novel Coronavirus. People are now coming up with new models and innovative approaches that could make patient care more comfortable for both the patient and the doctor. One of the aspects of healthcare that have received much of such attention is Telemedicine and Telehealth in Nigeria. Now health entrepreneurs are paying more attention to the telemedicine benefits in healthcare.
Telemedicine, also known as Telehealth is a term used to describe health practice based mainly on information and communication technology (telecommunication in healthcare).
This may be wrongly understood as the use of devices like mobile phones, laptops, or software to cure diseases. But it is more of a medium through which healthcare is delivered. Whether diseases are cured or not in the process, is not what is considered.
There have been many criticisms given to this approach to healthcare delivery. Most of them come from the proponents of the traditional Medical practice.
The traditional medical practice is medicine as we initially knew it to be; a situation where both the doctor and the patient are physically present and health care delivered first hand to the patient.
Criticisms From Proponents of the Traditional Medical Practice on Telemedicine and Telehealth in Nigeria
One such criticism is that it reduced the level of compassion shown to patients. This argument is based on the premise that physical presence enables more compassion/care as opposed to virtual.
But whether this is true or not depends on the orientation of both the patient and the health caregiver. Nowadays, people are getting more comfortable with expressing feelings and emotions online than physically.
So someone who is more comfortable with virtual consultations will prefer the telemedicine approach to the traditional approach. Except in cases where the patient needs to physically see a doctor.
Also, this will help to remove the bias a clinician may have due to the patient’s appearance. It will also help solve some issues in history like the patient’s social status and condition of living assuming the patient called from home.
Another criticism is that telemedicine may hide some signs which could be elicited from a proper physical examination of a patient. This is only true if telehealth is used to replace the usual hospital visits.
The telemedicine benefits are to help patients access a doctor when the hospital is far away and to help the doctor get a history before a patient presents to the hospital.
Also, Read; Medical student Builds Any News App.
Understanding the Telemedicine Benefits
The telecommunication industry is one of the most advanced sectors of the Nigerian economy with healthy competition among all its various brands. Telehealth is a golden opportunity waiting for any of these brands to make it big.
This will require the collaboration of healthcare workers and such companies if this will ever work. This is because health workers will need to be trained to the inline with such advanced technologies.
The Telemedicine benefits in healthcare include;
1. Telemedicine Benefits for the Patient
One of the major telemedicine benefits for patients is the accessibility to health workers even when health facilities are not close by. It also gives patients more security, trust, privacy, and confidence while discussing their health concerns with their physicians.
Nigeria has a very large population of over 200 million persons, of which more than 60 percent (60%) are youths. And note that more than half the population have mobile phones that can access the internet.
On the other hand, there are only about 40,000 doctors in the country according to the Nigerian Medical Association in 2019. (Source: BBC News).
In the same news, it was shown that the WHO estimated that Nigerian-physician-to-patient-ratio is four (4) doctors per 10,000 people and 4 doctors to 28 people in the U.K. This means that in cases of a national health crisis where every Nigerian is at risk, a doctor is entrusted with the lives of 10,000 patients.
This is where telehealth should come in, even though it is not the ultimate solution to the problem. But the most important point to note is that in such cases is that: every Nigerian should have access to a doctor and the hospitals are not enough for the patients.
So the only solution is to resort to telemedicine to ensure that at least, all the patients with access to a mobile phone get a doctor’s opinion.
2. Job Creation for Young Doctors
Also, one of the telemedicine benefits is that it should offer a platform for any doctor who is registered under the Nigerian Medical Association to see patients and give their opinions before referral to the hospital.
This could be used as leverage to curb the rate of unemployment among young doctors in the country. Such software when made available should take care of rating the care given to patients and finding ways of fishing out quacks from such practice.
3. Efficient Medical Bookings
For a country with such a great population as Nigeria, Medical consults, surgeries, labor, and related services could be booked online.
Instead of patients crowding hospital spaces for such services, they could simply consult necessary units and only visit the hospital when it is necessary. This will not only save the cost of hospital visits but also time spent by patients in such visits.
4. Locum Software
A locum aka locum tenens is a person who temporarily stands in place of someone else of the same profession. This is very popular among young doctors who are always on calls.
What if the software is available that could link one doctor to any other doctor who is available in a given geographical location? It will be very much easier for young doctors, than calling random colleagues to stand in for them.
Other Telemedicine Benefits in Nigeria
- Medical Records and patient’s database (Digital Medical Records)
- Consultations and Bookings
- Emergency Medical Response
- Drug Prescription
- History taking, etc.
In conclusion, almost every sector of the Nigerian economy is adopting telehealth in health practice as an efficient means of making life easier for both clients and workers.
It is worthy to note that the health care sector is one that requires care and much consideration before any new approach is adopted. This is largely due to the ethical considerations involved. But there are a lot of benefits for for the Nigerian healthcare system if appropriate measures are put in place.