E-Health: “The Dawn of a New Era in Healthcare Delivery”
The 21st century marked a technological revolution in various sectors including healthcare. Though unheard of before the late 1990s e-health is fast becoming a common term in the modern world. WHO defines e-health as “the cost-effective and secure use of information and communication technologies in support of health and health-related fields including healthcare, health surveillance and health education, knowledge and research.” In fact, e-health is much more than this, it is a state of mind, an attitude, a commitment for networked, global thinking, to improve health care locally, regionally, and worldwide by leveraging information and communication technology.
Pakistan has a rapidly growing population of over 180 million, however the doctor to population ratio is an abysmal 1:1400 and the nurse to population ratio is an even more dreadful 1: 22000. Pakistan also has one of the highest infant and maternal mortality rates in the world, 94 out of every 1000 children do not survive beyond five years of age. Most women fail to access proper prenatal care or even skilled attendants for delivery. There is a dire need to take measures to provide accessible basic healthcare which is the birth right of every individual and to prevent unnecessary deaths due to lack of. However, these problems coupled with a low heath budget makes tackling them extremely hard.
E-Health can be the much-needed solution to the problems of the developing world. There is a need for newer, more innovative ways to tackle the heath crisis. Implementation of ICT based healthcare systems in remote rural and low income urban areas would mean patients can receive basic and specialist care without having to travel long distances. This is sometimes the only means of healthcare provision in remote inaccessible areas. In emergency cases, it could mean the difference between life or death. It is also more cost effective for patients, as most cannot afford even a meager fee, as studies have shown that e-health services have a reduced overall cost. Other benefits include reduced risk of infection transmission between patients and medical staff, feasibility for bed bound patients and those suffering from chronic illnesses that require frequent visits. Widespread e-health administration in Pakistan would be a vital change as 75% of the population lives in rural areas but only 15% of them benefit from all hospital beds.
Some of the ways in which e-health is being implemented today include electronic health and medical records, tele-medicine which uses technology to provide clinical healthcare from a distance, health oriented websites and mobile heath apps, computer-assisted diagnostics, medical imaging, and surgery training and planning systems that help physicians provide more accurate diagnoses and treatments.
Even though e-health has transformed the face of healthcare in the western world there is still a long way to go in most developing nations including Pakistan. The socioeconomic constraints, lack of adequate infrastructure and skilled and committed human resource, security and privacy concerns and an apprehension of ICT based anything by the public health authorities and general population have made implementation a slow process. Yet e-health promises to be the answer to Pakistan’s major healthcare barriers with the potential to change the lives of millions completely.