In this day and age, the most familiar maxim “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” might pose a question, does it hold any value? Could an Apple actually help a person in maintaining a perfect health? A person with deteriorated health can also report ‘I love apples and eat them frequently.’ Certainly, there is more to eating an apple a day, and that includes access to basic health facilities in every nook and cranny at an affordable price.
Pakistan is a developing country where even the basic health facilities are not handy to some, primarily due to affordability and accessibility issues and also due to unawareness that how technology and its benefits could be reaped into their favor.
It is highly unfortunate that, the UNDP Human Development Report 2013 has ranked Pakistan 146th out of 187 countries on the Human Development Index (HDI) ranking, which measures health, education, and standard of living. Though Pakistan’s vision 2025 envisions Pakistan to succeed in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of zero poverty and hunger, universal access to health services, education, modern energy services, clean water and sanitation and join the league of Upper-Middle-Income Countries by 2025.
Nevertheless, it is important to realize that Pakistan being a developing country, trying to stride excellence on many fronts including the health sector, is moving at a snails speed.
Therefore, even a small effort, to improve the quality of life of People of Pakistan could help make a dent, if not the difference. A step in the right direction could establish such a system which provides basic education and consultancy to the people who have hurdles in accessing basic health units.
We can borrow a leaf from the technological innovations adopted by the developed world and devise ways and means to help our fellow countrymen reap the benefits of technology and get access to health facilities, which are more accessible and affordable for them.
Technological advancements in the world, suggest a new concept called ‘Telehealth,’ which can contribute immensely in the lives of the people, by assisting the needy patients online. Telehealth service refers to the gathering of methods and techniques to provide primary health care, public health, and medical services online through video conferencing, online supervision of doctors and latest digital diagnostic equipment including vital sign monitor, digital stethoscope, examination camera, ultrasound probe and ENT scope.
Telehealth undoubtedly is an incredible initiative that aims to assist and take care of the health of the people. Telehealth is not a new concept in the developed countries, however, in the developing countries, the concept is unique.
Telehealth service can save the cost of travel, patients can stay in their community which helps in faster recovery, and danger of traveling in extreme winters and summers is also a problem that can be catered through Telehealth Clinics.
Telehealth Clinics are most effective in Northern and mountainous areas of Pakistan due to the difficult terrain which restricts the patients to visit the clinics by themselves. Moreover, the availability of doctors is problematic in these areas. Telehealth clinics can serve as a bridge between the hurdles of transportation and the availability of the doctors through online consultancy. It will also encourage the patients who feel reluctant to travel a distance to get themselves properly checked with advanced medical gadgets. With Telehealth services, it can overcome all of such problems and get medical services through latest digital tools.
COMSATS Internet Services (CIS) realizing the need of the hour has taken an initiative to help the people of Pakistan, and has initiated a project called ‘ComClinic.’ The project aims to develop a network of Telehealth in the remote areas of Pakistan by establishing a system through which the patients can connect with the doctors online and get assistance in the medical treatment and primary health care. For this purpose, COMSATS Internet Services had been successful in developing Telehealth Clinic Network in different areas of Pakistan. CIS has managed to establish TeleHelath Clinics in the areas of Gokina, Mehra Behri, Dagai, Swabi, Quetta, Maraka, Muzaffarabad, Chak Faiz, Sangu, Shadoband in Gwadar and Ubhri.
The Telehealth resource center in Islamabad is responsible for providing specialized consultancy services to the needy patients through the latest digital tools. Up till now CIS Telehealth Network has served more than 40,500 patients and provided over 19,903 ultrasonography. This facility has been warmly welcomed by the people living in these remote areas/towns and cities. The patient is directly connected to the doctor sitting in Islamabad. In this way, the patients who visit these Telehealth clinics are satisfied by the procedure of the checkups. Medical treatment in these Telehealth clinics is done through latest video conferencing, vital sign monitor, ENT scope, ultrasound, a digital stethoscope and digital diagnostic equipment.
An initiative like this was necessary to help the people save the cost of transportation and paid visits to the doctors by just consulting to the CIS Telehealth Clinics. CIS Telehealth Clinic is a great success and aims to pursue establishing Telehealth clinics in other remote areas of Pakistan. Telehealth has the potential to develop a healthy and a stronger society in which people are aware of the health and medical care. It is cost effective and a practical solution in a developing country like Pakistan. Due to the high standard and strict monitoring of Telehealth clinics, the data and information of the patients is entered and saved via an online portal. This information could potentially aid in carrying out research based activities in future, for instance, prevalent health issues or illnesses that were catered in a particular area and how were they handled, and in what time span.
COMSATS Internet Services being the pioneer of services in Pakistan, has extended an effort to reach out, educate the people and to bring awareness to them as to how to reap the benefits of advanced technologies and help themselves get the maximum benefit of Telehealth centers. CIS believes that together as a nation we should join hands and make the best use of our potential to make our homeland a place worth living. CIS aims to establish more Telehealth setups in remote locations of Pakistan, to help assist the deserving people who need a medical checkup and health care.
By Amir Malik
The author is the Chief Executive Officer of COMSATS