A KING’S College, London-trained public health doctor, Dr. Omas Ubiame, has introduced a novel health care delivery service that links telecommunication technology to clinical health care in the oil city of Warri, Delta State. Designed to put health care delivery at the fingertip of patients, the Tel-clinical care project, as an innovative approach to provision of clinical care will expand the access of the population to basic health care and benefit hundreds of thousands of people in the Warri Metropolis.
The health care project targets the reduction of health care cost overhead and improving public health by leveraging on the telecommunication technology as Nigeria moves closer to achieving a universal health care coverage. To drum awareness for the scheme, Dr. Ubiame organised a road show and town hall meetings, question and answer sessions, free medical consultations and treatment of common diseases in many the public places, which the team visited within the Uwvie and Warri metropolis.
The team stopped over at Ugborikoko market, Robison Plaza, Okere market, Effurun Motor Park, Effurun spare parts market, Effurun market and the Uvwie town, where Ubiame told the people that they could use their phones to call a doctor from the convenience of their homes, offices, shops or market stalls. To get a doctor under the scheme, members of the public have to purchase a prepaid rechargeable card starting with as little N500, which gives them 20 minutes airtime.
Ubiame explained that the whole idea is to give to a persons’ health the same importance a debit card gives to a persons’ finances. The initiative is to help the patient reduce the opportunity cost in seeking health care, saving resources such as time, money, and emotions, but more importantly, giving those in rural areas access to basic health care by using their phones.
Going by the vision, doctors will consult and plan a pathway of care with patients who call in, using the same expertise as if they were in a traditional clinic setting. She said thereafter, they would prescribe the required course of treatment, requesting appropriate laboratory tests and referring patients as need be, all through telephone calls, text messages, instant messaging systems.
“Nigeria has a huge and growing population of over 170million people with close to 150 million active mobile phone lines as at June 2014, yet less than 35 per cent of her people have access to basic health care,” she asserted.
Ubiame added that for various reasons such as medical advancement and globalisation, the number of persons delivering health care was reducing at an alarming rate despite the increasing number of persons requiring care. The doctor-patient ratio in Nigeria is about 1 to 7000 patients and this is having a serious effect on provision and delivery of health care.
She asserted, “We cannot continue to act as if we are not aware of these problems and the risks involved, we have to prepare for the future as it will be grossly ignorant and out rightly irresponsible not to do so going by the prevailing circumstances.” According to her, doctors have been consulting with patients over the phone for ages, “but this systematic coordinated approach is relatively new to Warri and its environs.”
She cited the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, South Africa, Kenya, Mali , Uganda and other countries where they use mobile phone for medicare, adding that UK version known as ‘NHS Direct’ has been at the heart of their National Health Insurance Scheme for a long time.
Not struggling with traditional hospitals Ubiame dismissed fears that the scheme would erode traditional hospital visits, saying, “We are working in partnership with the hospitals. What we are introducing is not meant to replace but support our existing health care setting, as face-to-face patient-doctor encounter still remains the most important means of health care delivery.”
She noted that it was also fast becoming the most expensive to deploy and seemingly inadequate to sustain, hence complete reliance on face-to-face doctor-patient encounter, especially as it relates to universal health coverage was neither pragmatic nor feasible. Her words, ‘The backbone for this project is our ability to screen and refer to the hospitals only those patients whose physical presence in a hospital is implicit for the care they require.”
“We are also working with laboratories and pharmacies to ensure that our patients’ experience is holistic and as close as possible to the type of care they would be provided in a traditional clinic setting,” Dr. Ubiame stated. The team carried out a demonstration of how the process works to the satisfaction of those who were present at the show.
Describing how it works, Dr. Ubiame said, “A doctor is just at your fingertips, simply a dial away.” “We are on a pilot test now but we want people to know that they can reach a doctor as conveniently, as affordable, as secure and as efficiently as possible. With dial-a-doc- direct, everyone is a winner,” she stated.
By: Emma Amaize
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