Telemedicine Africa  has collaborated with Dimension Data and the IDC to set up private telehealth centres in South Africa.

The virtual eHealth centres will use a public-private partnership (PPP) model to provide nurses at primary care clinics with workstations that boast video conferencing infrastructure connected to medical devices, such as electronic stethoscopes and blood pressure machines, to examine a patient. The patient information is then sent to a doctor or specialist remotely to make an informed diagnosis.

In an interview with eHealthNews, Telemedicine Africa Managing Director and one of the creators of the telemedicine workstations, Dr Moretlo Molefi, explained that clinics and hospitals would continue to contract different types of specialists on specific days of the week as they do currently. However, the use of telemedicine will ensure that patient waiting times are reduced in an efficient and cost effective manner.

“We understood the need for a user friendly system for nurses and we developed our workstations in collaboration with Stellenbosch University, SUNPA and the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) as a model for all developing countries,” said Molefi.

“We’re also talking to Correctional Services to provide a telemedicine service. They depend on public health services but instead of transporting inmates from the prisons to the hospitals, we can install telemedicine workstations to connect them to the hospitals. This has the potential to ensure that inmates receive medical attention faster and reduces the risk associated with transporting and admitting convicted criminals,” said Molefi.

Molefi explained that research done at the University of Cape Town and KwaZulu-Natal has indicated substantial cost savings because of the reduction of transfers. “Studies show that 25 out of 100 patients needed to physically see a specialist after a telehealth consultation; that’s 75 people who were saved a referral to a specialist.”

Limited bandwidth at many facilities is still a problem and fully operational virtual telemedicine centres are costly but Molefi explained that they have developed a smaller video conferencing suitcase option, using a laptop, for smaller clinics that don’t have enough space for a dedicated telemedicine consultation room and are concerned about theft and vandalism of a complete workstation.

“We have evidence that a virtual consultation is as good as an in-person consultation. Patients are comforted by seeing a doctor on screen and appreciate the convenience and cost saving of not having to travel long distances to see a specialist. What we have is an opportunity to improve the quality of patient care with telemedicine. We’ve seen numerous patients from other African countries who receive treatment in SA and never return for their follow up; telemedicine eradicates this limitation,” continued Molefi.

To date Telemedicine Africa is working with Limpopo DoH to implement the workstations in 14 clinics as well as partnering with MTN to roll out workstations to 100 clinics across the country.

Molefi concluded by saying that discussions are underway with the stakeholders responsible for the National Health Insurance (NHI), and they are piloting the service in one of the  NHI regional districts in KZN.

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