Telemedicine exploits the advances in telecommunication technology to transfer medical data from one location to another. The phenomenal expansion and rampant proliferation of internet services in the remotest parts of the globe have made the ‘Online Health Care’ now a reality. In 1998 the WHO defined telemedicine as: “….the delivery of healthcare services, where distance is the critical factor, by all healthcare professional using information and communication technologies for the prevention of disease and injuries, research and evaluation, and for the continuing education of healthcare providers all in the interest of advancing the health of individual and their communities” .
Telemedicine is an effective technique to relieve hospital overcrowding and maximize the use of medical resources. Insufficient medical resources and misallocation of resources have become a global problem in medicine. With the advancement in communication and information technologies, telemedicine can now offer patients access to high-quality healthcare services. Telemedicine has tremendous potential to dramatically improve the efficiency of healthcare delivery providing patients with easy access to specialist expertise that was previously inaccessible or difficult to obtain. Telemedicine can be classed into three types of service delivery methods: store-and-forward, remote patient monitoring, and real-time interactive services .
In store-and-forward telemedicine service, first, the medical data (such as medical images and bio-signals) are digitalized and then the data is transmitted to a Doctor or medical specialist across distance and time. In remote patient monitoring, medical experts monitor a patient remotely using wearable gadgets, digital video, or other technologies. This method is mainly applied to manage chronic diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes mellitus, and asthma. For the real-time interactive service, patients and doctors communicate through video conferencing. Typically, patients must visit a local telemedicine health center to receive this service, which is provided by the-specialists.
Benefits That Come With the Use of Telemedicine
- Less expensive
- Less traveling
- Useful in emergency condition
- Large target population can be reached easily
A dramatic increase in telemedicine services was recorded during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many patients who were unable to venture outside were forced to consult a medical specialist from their home via video conferencing. A Glo-Telemedicine Center in Lagos, is providing healthcare services to local Nigerians. This center has collaborations with healthcare providers from India, the U.S., Egypt, and other countries. The clinic is aimed to provide low-cost specialist services to many Nigerians .
Despite the potential of telemedicine in Nigeria, there have been obstacles to its widespread adoption , some of which are listed below:
- Inadequate infrastructural development
- High cost of set up
- Resistance to change
- Lack of access to required gadgets by patients
- Lack of affordability of telemedicine services by patients
- Internet connectivity
- Lack of constant power supply
- Lack of sufficient technicians
- Community acceptance
By making medical expertise more accessible telemedicine can reduce regional diversity in diagnosis, treatment, and clinical care. Integration of telemedicine services into the existing health care delivery system can work wonders in many African countries. However, many challenges have to be first addressed only then the real beneficial power of the telemedicine services can be unleashed. Gradually, in the coming years, once these bottlenecks are solved, telemedicine will transform the healthcare delivery scenario not only in Nigeria but entire Africa.
- Pal, S.K., Pandey, G.S., Kesari, A., Choudhuri, G., Mittal, B. (2002). Telemedicine: E-health and hospital of the future. Journal of Scientific and Industrial Research, 61, 414 - 422.
- Wang, X., Zhang, Z., Zhao, J., Shi, Y. (2019). Impact of Telemedicine on Healthcare Service System Considering Patients’ Choice. Discrete Dynamics in Nature and Society, Volume 2019, Article ID 7642176, 16.
- New telemedicine center in Nigeria aims to keep patients at home. https://tinyurl.com/ny4btuxj
- Telemedicine: The Untapped Goldmine in Nigeria’s Healthcare System. Sydani Initiative for International Development. https://tinyurl.com/2vedjmj8
Dr. Sanjoy Kumar Pal is a Professor of Biology in Skyline University Nigeria. He has a PhD. in Animal Genetics from Indian Veterinary Research Institute, India.