Editorial Notes

Advancing telemedicine: Dawn

The paper says technology can help link basic health units and rural health networks to dispense medical advice and supervise manageable ailments.

The paper says technology can help link basic health units and rural health networks to dispense medical advice and supervise manageable ailments. PHOTO: ST FILE

ISLAMABAD (DAWN/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Besides poor management and the lack of medical resources and infrastructure in the healthcare sector, the chronic shortage of doctors in both the rural areas and cities, continues to remain unaddressed.

But even in grim circumstances there can be reason to hope. During the dark days of the pandemic, people with conditions such as heart disease and diabetes were advised to stay away from the Covid-infected corridors of overwhelmed medical outlets where doctors tended to growing numbers of coronavirus cases.

To cater to the health needs of those who were unable to visit the doctor, a number of telemedicine services sprang up in major cities of the country. Though not unknown previously, their potential has grown significantly. Mobile and online technology can help link basic health units and rural health networks to health tech initiatives where doctors can dispense medical advice and supervise manageable ailments.

Through these portals, doctors can also perform other functions of primary healthcare, including information collection, disease surveillance, providing nutritional and reproductive health guidance to women and monitoring child growth. True, there are challenges - for instance, online facilities are often inaccessible and women do not possess a mobile phone.

But these are factors that can be addressed over time, especially as the demand for telehealth services is growing - including for follow-up consultations after an initial in-person visit.

Health-tech start-ups can also play a useful role in increasing the number of doctors by bringing back to work the 60 per cent of women MBBS graduates who are not practising because of family and other social constraints. A recent report in this paper, recounted how one such initiative did just that, and how women doctors were able to give medical advice on reproductive and child health to patients in Afghanistan where healthcare after the war is in a shambolic state.

The relevant authorities would do well to facilitate such services in a country where there are reportedly only 130,000 doctors for a population of more than 220 million.

  • The paper is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 23 news media organisations.

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