COVID-19 has caused a public health emergency all around the world, and none more so in developing nations where the challenge has been particularly great. Primary healthcare services have struggled thanks to a lack of protective equipment, risk of infection to health professionals and patients being treated for conditions other than COVID, as well as already stressed hospital facilities.
Unfortunately, at least 90% of people in 67 low-income countries stand little chance of getting vaccinated against COVID-19 in 2021 because wealthy nations have reserved more than they need, says the People’s Vaccine Alliance, which includes Amnesty International, Frontline AIDS, Global Justice Now, and Oxfam.
In this article, we’ll be taking a look at the role that telemedicine could play in helping developing nations exit the pandemic.
What is Telemedicine?
Telemedicine leverages modern technology to care for patients remotely. The patient and the consultant don’t need to be in the same room during an examination, which makes it ideal for a pandemic like COVID-19. Especially since the early months of COVID-19’s rapid spread, 71% of patients confirmed they had considered telemedicine as an alternative to in-person appointments at some point.
Waiting time is reduced and patients who – for example – are located in rural areas are able to access a physician, albeit virtually, and get an accurate diagnosis so that they can start treatment.
How Telemedicine Could Help Developing Nations Exit The Pandemic
Telemedicine is seen as an effective way to control the COVID-19 outbreak around the world because it stops the spread of the virus by reducing the need for physical contact between patients, consultants and the hospitals at large. In fact, 69% of patients using telemedicine platforms during the early pandemic period in 2020 were managed at home with no need for an in-person appointment.
Let’s take a look at how it can help developing nations exit the pandemic.
Leverage The Help of Tech Startups
More and more tech startups are beginning to dominate the world of telemedicine. Companies such as Babylon Health and MDLIVE are at the forefront of new technologies and advances, and they are helping nations around the world overcome resistance from established healthcare systems and doctors.
This resistance is especially prominent in developing nations, where hospitals are failing to adopt telehealth technologies quickly enough due to complex legacy systems, a lack of a proper IT budget, as well as simply not enough human resources.
In times of crisis like COVID-19, it’s crucial that tech start-ups and established telemedicine firms are able to integrate their technology and mobilize existing healthcare workers in developing nations, helping them to get to grips with cloud-based technologies.
Government Support is Needed
Before the pandemic, Asia-Pacific governments, in particular, were concerned that telemedicine, when supported on a large scale, was unproductive and costly. However, since the beginning of the pandemic, the benefits of telemedicine have become clearer.
It’s important that governments in developing nations find ways of not only implementing cost-effective digital health platforms and making them available on a broad scale but also to persuade otherwise skeptical individual patients of their benefits, as well as resistant doctors and hospitals.
There are two ways they can do this: One is by partnering with tech startups (see above) in order to educate and install telemedicine solutions. And two, by offering incentives, such as free trials.
With that said, change is happening, even if slowly. 46% of respondents to a 2019 Asia-Pacific Front Line of Healthcare survey said they want to be using digital health tools by 2024, while telemedicine platforms like MyDoc are reporting an increase in daily active users. Moreover, where clinicians are concerned, many see telemedicine as an effective method of patient care.
Insurers Can Help
Health insurers balked at the idea of adding telemedicine coverage before the pandemic struck. Since the health crisis blew up, insurers across Asia, Africa and Latin America began adding digital health services to their policies.
Insurers can do more. They could, for example, cover some or even the whole cost of the vaccine, and partner with telemedicine startups to sponsor free consultations.
While telemedicine can in theory help developing nations exit the pandemic, it can only be effective if they have the right leadership in place. Presently, developing countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia aren’t able to leverage existing cloud and mobile services that will allow them to implement telemedicine because they lack guidance and leadership.
Only by bringing together tech startups, regulators and governments will developing nations be able to use telemedicine to help them exit the pandemic.