Information communication technology (ICT) and the Internet are fast becoming the norm in developing countries and the sooner PNG realises this and take some action, we will continue to lag behind other developing countries within our region.
I see the use of ICT and the Internet to improve health service delivery to rural areas as something of a matter of urgency. Currently not all hospitals in PNG are adequately staffed with a doctor and it will take a long time before we see all hospitals fully staffed. And it may be like this for the next 20 years since the number of medical graduates is still small compared to our population growth rate. Furthermore, with more doctors moving overseas, PNG will continue to face a problem of doctor shortage.
So how can ICT and the Internet be used in health care delivery to rural areas?
Telepathology is one way. How this may be done is that base hospitals (eg Angau, Goroka, Nonga) can process tissue specimens for histological (microscopic slides) diagnosis and using a camera connected to a computer and attached to a microscope, photographs of the slides can be taken and send by simple email attachement to a pathologist based in, say, Port Moresby General hospital.
The pathologist will then make the diagnosis and send the result back to the base hospital. This sort of arrangement will make the flow of information fast and allows a surgeon or any other specialist based in a base hospital to make the decision quickly on what to do with the mangement of a patient. Even the patient and relatives who wait for a long time for a result will also be quickly relieved of the anxiety. The importance becomes obvious when someone is suspected of having cancer and a quick diagnosis and patient managment decision is required.
Telehealth is another. Using the same principle and arrangments the same can be done to relay x-rays images, scans and the like that require a specialist’s report, rare or difficult cases and images of patients with rare diseases that need the wider participation of other doctors and specialists to manage the case. Indirectly telehealth will also encougrage and promote continueing medical education so the provicial hospitals and base hospitals are connected in a virtual world and connected to the outside medical world so that they do not feel isolated and forgotten.
I realise that this will take a lot funding and technical support to start and keep this kind of service going but it’s one way in which the problem of doctor shortage can be addressed as a long term plan.
ICT and the Internet are powerful tools and the sooner we realise their uses and applications in solving some of the developmental and health service delivery problems in PNG the better.