Senator Edgardo J. Angara, chair of the Congressional Commission on Science Technology and Engineering (Comste), has identified telehealth, which would help deliver basic medical services to remote areas through the use of information and communication technology (ICT), as a national priority.
Comste has a target of deploying 200 new telehealth clinics within the next two years. The commission is also targeting the development of new biomedical devices/subsystems–ECG, blood tests, urinalysis, disease screening in coordination with local electronics industry partners.
Department of Health secretary Enrique Ona, who is a member of the Comste health panel, noted that the role of ICT would play an important role in making the move towards achieving universal healthcare.
The National Telehealth Project, which was initiated by the University of the Philippines, Manila National Telehealth Center (UPM-NTC), is seen as an ideal partnership between healthcare and technology, which would enable doctors to remotely diagnose patients in rural and far-flung communities.
Remote consultations include the use of SMS and MMS services, video conferencing, and email referrals. The project has ten sites in four provinces, complete with workstations and training centers. In a 34 month period, there have been 1,389 telehealth referrals from remote doctors.
Angara also filed a bill in the Senate that will develop community health delivery and health team placement for rural area.
“Primary health services remain elusive or inaccessible to majority of our population, especially those living in the rural and poor areas of the country. As for our health care practitioners, particularly those in the nursing profession, a good number of them are denied employment opportunities to practice their trade and, consequently, the training to further improve their skills,” said Angara.
Angara added that, “a program that aims to improve the accessibility and delivery of primary health services will inevitably create employment for our health care practitioners and hone their skills in the process. Conversely, increasing jobs and skill level in the health sector will render primary health services more available to the public.”
Angara noted that in Region 1, the ratio of healthcare workers per person is a disproportionate 190 per 100,000 people.
If passed, the bill would establish one Local Health Unit (LHU) for cities and municipalities with a population of more than 20,000, and at least one registered nurse per 5,000 people, and no less than 2 nurses for each LHU.
The bill would also provide nurse-led operations and equipment for telemedecine for 4th and 6th class municipalities with populations of less than 5,000. These nurses would be able to remotely consult with physicians, who would also be required to conduct periodic visits to the communities.
The implementation of telehealth and telemedicine would also allow nurses in the LHUs to electronically document patients and their records.
Angara said that aside from improving basic health care services and delivery to remote areas, telemedicine will create the foundation for digital medical records. By collecting data from patients all over the country, transitioning to a digital medical record system will become easier.
The collection of digital records also creates a centralized information system that can be utilized by PhilHealth. By keeping track of its members, PhilHealth can make it easier for members to get the health care they need and at the same time sustain their membership, Angara noted.
“With the proposed Community Health Delivery and Health Team Placement Act he end goal is to elevate the availability of primary health care in the Philippines and the competence of Philippine health care practitioners to unprecedented heights,” said Angara