The Future of Health Care
The novel corona virus – 2019 has affected every aspect of our daily living in astronomical proportions. A dimension of life that may be affected significantly for the rest of existence of mankind is the dimension of health care. According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary , health care refers to the efforts made to maintain or restore physical, mental, or emotional well-being especially by trained and licensed professionals. These services may include general out-patient department care, primary health care, antenatal care, obstetric care, emergency care, etc. All of these forms of health care is at the brink of massive evolution.
For years, health care has mainly been a face-to-face interaction where the individual seeking health care moves to the health provider to access health care; or in situation like public health where the health providers rather come the clients. Well, all of this is about to change dramatically post the pandemic. We are currently in a time that meeting face to face, in close proximity increases one’s risk of contracting the COVID-19 virus. Hence, there are “stay-at-home” campaigns and social distancing norm all around, thereby making traditional health care delivery an unsafe measure.
This situation, although gloomy, given the fact that there is no treatment or viable vaccine for it still presents a critical opportunity for an evolution in the health care system. In the face of pandemic and the possible long term stay with us, the safest measure for health care would be eHealth or telemedicine also known as telehealth. This approach to health care refers to the practice of caring for patients remotely when the provider and patient are not physically present with each other. Thus, a health provider can be present in one health facility and continue to care for other patients remotely through technological audio or audio-visual mediums and software.
The World Health Organization  defines telemedicine as, “the delivery of health care services, where distance is a critical factor, by all health care professionals 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”. This definition clearly shows that telemedicine is not only confined to the diagnosis and treatment of diseases remotely but transcends to even the education and research prowess of the health care system.
Telemedicine which is going to be the new face of health care post the COVID-19 pandemic and even during this period of the pandemic has immerse potential for the delivery of health care. The benefits are endless; from being cost-effective to providing timely health information and non-emergency services remotely. Again, it comes with a swag of comfortability for both the patient and the health care provider. Telemedicine does not necessarily have to be complex; they can take very simple forms like the use of mobile phone SMS to provide pregnant women with daily tips about their dietary, exercise and sexual activity during the period of pregnancy.
Again, telemedicine will help to deal with one major setback of the current health care system; that is, the storage of medical information. With telemedicine, the collection, storage, processing and retrieval of medical records and generation of medical reports is expedited thereby enhancing decision making at the health facility. This new wave of health care will reduce the delays that patients experience on arrival at the health facility. Since there will be no need to come physically to the health facility, the delay time will be eliminated.
It is interesting to note that telemedicine has the potential to significantly reduce the likelihood of self-medication because patients would have their doctors or physicians just a call away. Hence, eliminating the needless want to self-medicate. Although telemedicine may be usually used for the non-emergency health care services, it can be explored in emergency care. For instance, should an accident happen and everyone around the scene is not a health professional, telemedicine platforms can be used to reach a physician to advice on what to do in anticipation of paramedics to arrive. This act alone can save countless of lives. Surgeries can be conducted under the instruction and supervision of specialists remotely. Again, individuals within rural communities who cannot afford or have access to the mainstream health care services can explore telemedicine as their best alternative.
The future of health care is exciting with telehealth and telemedicine paving the break of a new dawn to health care. However, this is not to say that there are no downsides to this relatively new way of providing health care. Telemedicine or telehealth require ICT skills; the users of such platforms would have to be computer literate, being able to at least use the mobile phone or internet. Therefore, in developing countries like Ghana and other countries within the sub-Sahara region where the internet penetration and coverage is low, it may serve as a challenge to its utilization. Also, this is a fairly new area and people would really have to understand it before they can socially accept it as a health care approach.
Despite the demerits of the future of health care, there is so much hope that this will change the conceptualization of health care forever. The best approach to exploiting the potentials of this system is to start it out as a complementary health care system rather than an alternative health care. By doing so, the public can be sensitized and prepared for this major change in health care. Also, countries, particularly in developing countries, must work assiduously to improve their internet coverage, ICT use and mobile phone penetration to aid in the evolution of the health care system. It will also be imperative for governments and international bodies and stakeholders in health care to invest in the training of health care providers (i.e., nurses, medical doctors, specialist, etc.) to be able to use telemedicine or telehealth platforms to improving the health care experience. Telemedicine can be infused into the education curriculum of all health and allied health programmes to build their capacity for this major take off.
In summary, the future of health care is going to change astronomically with the utilization of telemedicine and telehealth. The future is exciting in the telemedicine way!
- Merriam Webster Dictionary. 2020. Retrieved from: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/health%20care
- WHO. A health telematics policy in support of WHO’s Health-For-All strategy for global health development: report of the WHO group consultation on health telematics, 11–16 December, Geneva, 1997. Geneva, World Health Organization, 1998.
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