The Novartis Foundation and the Ghana Health Service have announced the successful integration and scale-up of a telemedicine service, with national coverage expected to be possible by 2019.

The telemedicine service started as a pilot model in the Amansie West District of the Ashanti Region in 2011, covering 30 communities of around 35,000 people.

The Novartis Foundation worked with local and international partners including the Millennium Promise at Columbia University; the Ghana Ministry of Health; Ministry of Communication; National Health Insurance Agency; and National Ambulance Service; St. Martin’s Hospital; MedGate; Ericsson and Airtel.

The telemedicine service uses mobile technology to connect community health workers with specialist health professionals via 24-hour teleconsultation centres. Doctors, nurses and midwives in the teleconsultation centres coach community health workers and advise on the treatment of their patients, particularly in emergency care.

According to the Novartis Foundation, this not only strengthens healthcare capacity and empowers community health workers; but it also improves quality of care, avoiding unnecessary referrals and reducing transport times and costs for patients. In 2016, more than half of all teleconsultations could be resolved directly by phone, including 31% that avoided referrals. This is particularly important in rural populations, where access to specialist care is limited.

Based on the success of this telemedicine model, the Ghana Health Service has now selected it for implementation across the nation as part of its national eHealth strategy to use information and communications technology (ICT) to improve healthcare delivery.

Working with the Novartis Foundation on a roadmap for scale-up, the Ghana Health Service and the Ministry of Health have now set up and staffed six teleconsultation centres across the country.

“We want to make sure that by 2020, everybody can have access to quality affordable healthcare in Ghana, irrespective of where you are. I see telemedicine as the next step on the path to achieving Universal Health Coverage in Ghana,” said Director General of Ghana Health Service, Dr Anthony Nsiah-Asare.

The integration of telemedicine services into national health policy marks a step-change for multi-sector partnerships bringing impactful programmes to scale.

“We’re very proud to have been a part of this partnership, all the way from the pilot model to the roadmap for national implementation,” said Head of the Novartis Foundation, Dr Ann Aerts.

“Working with policy makers to integrate initiatives like telemedicine into health systems is the ultimate goal for us – only with sustained government leadership can such initiatives continue to transform healthcare for years to come,” concluded Dr Aerts.

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