TELEMEDICINE is gaining in popularity in Bahrain as social distancing measures continue to be enforced due to the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, writes the GDN's Raji Unnikrishnan.
However, challenges remain as regards the technology and adaptability of the workforce, said health experts.
Telemedicine is the distribution of health-related services and information via electronic information and telecommunication technologies.
It connects patients to healthcare services through two-way interactive video, remote monitoring or electronic consultations.
Though optimistic about the practice, healthcare professionals in Bahrain underlined the need for doctor-patient interaction in emergency cases.
“Telemedicine is legally allowed in Bahrain as per the National Health Regulatory Authority (NHRA) standards,” said American Mission Hospital chief operating officer Arun Govind.
“It connects a physician or care provider with a patient remotely and hence is in great demand during Covid-19 due to mobility restrictions.
“This practice allows for a seamless provision of healthcare without facing the risk of being exposed to the current dangers in a healthcare facility.
“However, technology acquisition, transformation and adaptability by the workforce are major challenges.
“Wherever access to high-end or critical care is required, telemedicine is not the solution; a proper infrastructure with medical equipment and expertise of physicians and nurses are required to treat the patients.”
The GDN reported yesterday that Bahrain’s first NHRA-licensed telemedicine service went online through Doctori.
Shifa Al Jazeera Medical Centre ENT specialist Dr Balagopal V said telemedicine was here to stay even post Covid-19.
International experts said it will help reduce the burden on the secondary hospitals and improve documentation, data-collection, diagnosis and care without risking the safety of the patients or the health workers.
“Telemedicine is the need of the hour and it is proving really helpful for many, especially with certain specialities; in the case of ENT the practice can be used to treat mainly allergic cases,” said Dr Balagopal.
“Telemedicine has been adopted in many Western countries, and is gaining momentum in this part of the world as well.
“Especially, where there is a fear or reluctance to visit the hospital due to the pandemic, this method is helpful.
“But there are limitations; for instance, finding out the actual cause of an ear pain could prove tedious over phone.”
“Besides, patients with chronic diseases may need psychological reassurance and that means asking them to report in person.
“But I believe telemedicine is here to stay, being convenient and safe.”
Aster Clinic Gudaibiya paediatrician Dr Anoob Stephen, who has been tele-consulting patients, echoed similar views.
“When there are barriers such as Covid-19, a patient who lives far away from a medical facility or a patient reluctant to visit a medical facility out of fear can make use of the service,” he said.
“However, it will only work for any illness that does not require laboratory tests or a physical examination.
“Telemedicine makes it easier and convenient for patients to engage with doctors from the comfort of their home.
“Doctors need only very limited resources to engage with patients, but the traditional way of hands-on examination gives a better judgement for more accurate diagnosis.”
He said the relevance of a detailed study of the patient history cannot be underestimated, adding that telemedicine could occasionally contribute to a delay in treatment, especially with children.