'A step in the right direction,' doctors say

Telemedicine company looks to reduce strain on Jamaica's public health system

Observer writer

Sunday, August 05, 2018

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FOR Dr Tahira Redwood, the opportunity to join MDLink — a 24/7 online medical service — was a welcome one as she believes the telemedicine company is a “step in the right direction to increase access to affordable, quality and timely health care in Jamaica”.

The internal medicine consultant and sports medicine physician told Your Health Your Wealth that she has noted how burdened the public health care system is because of the number of patients who turn up with minor complaints, such as migraine and the common cold, in previously healthy, non-pregnant individuals.

“...If minor complaints may result in 0.5 per cent, two per cent or five per cent of all complaints in an emergency room, resources have to be added or diverted to address that complaint,” she said. “If we are able to divert more resources, it can be allocated to other conditions that are present in the emergency room.”

“I see where there is a role for telemedicine — to ease this burden and also relieve the loss of productivity,” Redwood continued.

Through MDLink's online platform, patients with less serious conditions such as migraines, cramps, arthritis, cold, and flu have access to their doctors 24/7 and are able to receive advice via text messaging, audio or video.

“MD link is an innovative platform similar to other telemedicine operations in developed nations. In these places, telemedicine has worked well and there is definitely a future and a place for it in Jamaica,” the internal medicine consultant said.

Similar sentiments were shared by Dr Jason Strachan, one of the seven doctors currently registered with MDLink.

“I thought it would be a good idea to be able to have a telemedicine platform in Jamaica because it was long overdue and it can be very beneficial for patients,” he said. “It will remove patients having to use their resources to go and see a doctor for non-urgent complaints or urgent complaints with a solution not requiring a physical consultation.”

Strachan told Your Health Your Wealth that he hopes the “older, more conventional” Jamaicans will see the good in the service and come on board.

“I want [them] to open up their eyes and heart to it, and realise that this is something good and it's an advancement in medicine that is necessary,” he said.

The telemedicine company, which was launched last Tuesday at the Spanish Court Hotel, is the brainchild of its chief medical officer Dr Ché Bowen, who started the company as a solution to lessening the strain on resources in the accident and emergency (A&E) departments of public hospitals caused by overcrowding.

The launch provided medical professionals and innovators alike with the first opportunity to experience the online platform that will serve as a direct and immediate link between patients and their doctors.

The platform provides a wide range of medical services for common, low-risk conditions, including providing prescriptions directly to pharmacies, diagnoses and scheduling further tests.

Bowen noted that the concept of telemedicine services is not new to Jamaica as psychiatrists often speak with their patients via Skype, and doctors in rural areas regularly consult with specialists in urban centres in the same way. However, his hope for MDLink in the next five years is that it will become a regional service, covering the Caribbean and South America.

Commenting on the ease and affordability of using MDLink's services, Bowen said: “You can just go online and book your appointment, and within less than 15 minutes you would have access to that doctor and your prescriptions, lab request, radiology request, and even referrals will be sent to the respective places — electronically transmitted or faxed. In Jamaica it is a little less than actually going to see a physical doctor. Right now we have it at $1,500 per consultation,” he added, advising that MDLink does not treat serious conditions such as chest pain, coughing up of blood and brain trauma.

On the issue of data protection, Bowen noted that MDLink's platform is more secure than social media platforms.

“We have a very secured platform built on Amazon Web Services and we are HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) compliant,” he said. “Our coding is deeply, deeply encrypted, so that definitely protects the information and puts MDLink in a First-World or top position to manage patients' data.”

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