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How telehealth is revolutionising the African healthcare landscape

20 March 2024 International SOS

The rise of telehealth services benefits both consumers and providers, with quality healthcare being provided rapidly and on-demand.

Situated at the intersection of healthcare and technology, telehealth represents a rapidly evolving field that is revolutionising the delivery of medical care, particularly in the aftermath of the recent global health pandemic. For us at International SOS, telehealth is about delivering healthcare services from a distance using information and communication technologies.

With its ability to expand access to care to essentially anyone with a smartphone or laptop with videoconferencing capabilities, it has truly enabled the reality of virtual health visits. Beyond this, the benefits of telehealth are numerous.

For healthcare providers, telehealth services have not only given them the ability to remotely share data, drive content, and personalise interactions, but ultimately enrich provider-patient interactions, while still meeting consumer healthcare expectations.

Patients now gain the opportunity to consult their doctor from the comfort of their home, potentially eliminating the need to take leave from work or arrange for childcare. For companies, it can mean offering employees access to healthcare more efficiently, especially on remote project sites.

Further to this, we are also seeing an increase in company requests around telehealth – which is directly linked to their focus on employee wellness. There are obvious reasons for the increasing adoption, foremost of which is that such services allow for better access to healthcare, especially with many businesses employing remote workforces.

Within the last year, our International SOS clinics in Africa have undertaken around 40,000 General Practitioner consultations, including teleconsultations. With most of our Africa-based clients operating in remote and high-risk areas, having access to our telehealth services enables them to make quick data-driven decisions in the event of a medical emergency.

These digital capabilities can be used to not only diagnose and treat, but also encourages employees to seek proactive medical care.

In 2016, we were the first organisation worldwide to receive ISO/TS 13131 certification for telehealth services. Our services allow physicians to deliver on-demand care effectively, and key to this is our Electronic Medical Record (EMR) platform. This enables our teams, both at remote client sites and International SOS clinics, to record and share medical information in a secure, real-time environment.

This digital ecosystem enables more efficient remote telehealth interactions with the healthcare professional teams located within International SOS Response Centres around the world – whether it’s to seek second opinions or specialist support. Telehealth helps to enhance clinical care by supporting our deployed clinical staff in remote environments. This approach helps to reduce unnecessary off-site referrals and off-site movement for patients as well.

However, the true value of telehealth services is that they help to enhance communication, escalation procedures, diagnoses, and decision-making. Similarly, from an employer-employee perspective, there is an improved duty of care, enhanced health outcomes, and significantly better cost efficiencies.

The key to a successful approach to telehealth is for organisations to be data-driven, as quality data is vital to improving areas such as clinical outcomes, access to quality healthcare, and cost efficiencies. Equally, it is necessary to adopt a clinical focus on sourcing, training, implementing, and monitoring compliant solutions that are scalable and best-in-class.

Ultimately, telehealth has become a valuable tool in the broader scope of effective healthcare provision. The effective leveraging of relevant technologies can boost access to care and improve patient outcomes - wherever the patient lives - and should, in the long run, significantly increase the efficiency of healthcare delivery to not only employees but to the broader population as well.

Dr Chris van Straten
Global Health Advisor Clinical Governance
International SOS

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