‘Telemedicine’ tackles geographic challenges of medicine in the Maldives

The government will introduce ‘telemedicine’ services to three islands this week, according to Health Minister Dr Aiminath Jameel, while the Ministry is also training healthcare staff in the use of the technology in conjunction with the Maldives College of Higher Education (MCHE).

Telemedicine is a combination of medical and telecommunication equipment that allows doctors to examine patients hundreds of kilometres away, usually with the assistance of a trained nurse at the patient’s end.

The Maldives’ first telemedicine facility was donated by Dhiraagu in late December 2010, and installed on Thinadhoo in Gaaf Dhaal at a cost of Rf 2 million (US$155,000). Further services are to be rolled out to Kudahuvadhoo (Dhaal Atoll), Eydhafushi (Baa Atoll), Naifaru (Lhaviyani Atoll) and eventually the southern atoll of Fuvahmulah, in a Rf 5.8 million (US$450,000) joint project between the government and the UAE-based Khalifa Al Nahyan Foundation, and will ultimately service 35 islands across the country.

Technologically ‘telemedicine’ ranges from two laptops and a webcam with a consulting doctor at one end and nurse at the other, to set-ups involving remote diagnostic equipment capable of compressing and sending complex medical imaging data across low-bandwidth connections – a challenge in many isolated areas with poor connectivity. Such deployments are seen as a practical application for unified communications technology developed by networking giants such as Cisco and Polycom, and is used all over world to supply medical expertise in remote and isolated communities in places such as Africa and Australia.

The particular system donated by Dhiraagu includes a cart consisting of a general exam camera, digital electronic stethoscope, dermascope, ENT otoscope, telephonic stethoscope, digital spirometer, 12 lead interpretive ECG, and digital vital signs monitor.

A statement from the company noted that the equipment would allow doctors to remotely check blood pressure, pulse rate, diagnose and follow-up respiratory illnesses as well as see the patient over the webcam.
The donation allows the telecom firm to show of its connectivity as well as fulfill its corporate social responsibility objectives, said Dhiraagu spokesperson Mohamed Mirshan Hassan, while the technology itself was a natural fit for an island nation such as the Maldives.

“Many patients currently need to travel to their regional hospital or Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH) in Male’. With telemedicine, a health assistant and a consulting hospital can mean the patient avoids having to travel long distances and gains increased access to medical care. And the doctor at the other end can be anywhere in the world.”

Image: An example of a common telemedicine cart.