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Use telemedicine in combating Covid-19

Sunday March 29 2020


Telemedicine is not a magic bullet for all health problems. There are legions of people to whom telemedicine is not an option. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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The coronavirus firestorm is all over the map; it has put everyone on edge.

The common phrase on many lips is, "I have never seen anything like this." It's true; in our lifetime, we haven't seen such an intractable threat enough to crush health systems and upset economies and social systems globally.

African countries are anxious: if the number of people testing positive for coronavirus — the virus that causes Covid-19 illness — rise to the levels seen in some of the developed countries, the weak pillars of our health system will not hold.

Apt preparation is imperative, not only to stem the spread of the vicious virus but also to put in place measures to manage patients who become hospitalised.

Here are how technology tools can augment traditional approaches. Telemedicine is the New Testament of public health.

It uses tools such as email, videoconferencing, chat services such as Skype or WhatsApp to enable patients to access healthcare providers.



First, telemedicine reduces person-to-person contact by keeping away uninfected people from health facilities, where they can catch coronavirus.

With a wide-scale spread of the virus, patients suffering from other diseases — and who don't need hospitalisation — may consult their doctors by online means.

Second, managing patients remotely saves much-needed resources. Patients who can make online consultations say for diabetes, free up frontline health workers to handle Covid-19 patients.

We do not have enough supplies of protective gear, and nobody knows for how long this problem will persist.

Keeping patients on online consultation saves masks, gowns, and critical supplies, which are in high demand for dealing with the current pandemic.

Third, telemedicine keeps workers — our best arsenal against diseases — safer.

When patients or suspected patients call their health facility and discuss available options for their treatment, it gives hospitals time to prepare to receive them. It reduces the chances of infecting health workers.


Fourth, telemedicine holds potential financial benefits to private providers. Online consultations often take less time than in-person visits, meaning physicians can treat more patients throughout the day.

Telemedicine is not a magic bullet for all health problems. There are legions of people to whom telemedicine is not an option.

But for the few who can use it and ease pressure out of the stretched health system, the returns are manifold.

Before scaling up telemedicine, there are many hurdles to be overcome, including administrative, technological, and regulatory.

The government's leadership, working in concert with stakeholders to provide guidance, is paramount for the success of telemedicine.

Here is my point: coronavirus is vicious and unyielding. To overcome it, we need both the left brain and right brain approaches, using every promising tool.

Having been a pioneer in the use of mobile money services, Kenya can lead the region in deploying telemedicine. It's an additional arrow to the quiver for fighting the coronavirus.

Mr Wambugu is an informatician Email: [email protected]: Twitter: @Samwambugu2