Telemedicine Consultation as an Indicator: A Tale of Two Countries
The following study was published through Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. Publishers.
Background:Telemedicine systems increase access to care, particularly in remote and developing countries. Nationwide telemedicine programs in Cabo Verde and Albania have been built by the International Virtual e-Hospital Foundation (IVeH) and based on the effective Initiate-Build-Operate-Transfer (IBOT) strategy. The aim of this study was to compare the clinical results between the two programs and examine the relationship between the clinical teleconsultations as an indicator of health care system needs and the contribution of local telemedicine champions.
Methods:Data were prospectively collected between 2014 and 2018 from Albania and Cabo Verde. Telemedicine champions were defined as programs, physicians, or hospitals who have contributed at least 100 telemedicine consultations during the study periods. Chi-squared test was utilized to analyze the data.
Results:There were 2,442 teleconsultations in Cabo Verde and 2,724 teleconsultations in Albania during the study periods. Using the 100-consultation benchmark as the indicator of telemedicine champion, we identified radiology (n = 1,061), neurotrauma (n = 742), and general neurology or stroke (n = 489) as champion clinical disciplines in Albania. With the same method of 100 consultations, we identified eight champion clinical disciplines in Cabo Verde, including neurology (n = 720), cardiology (n = 313), orthopedics (n = 190), surgery (143), endocrinology (141), otolaryngology (n = 139), urology (n = 139), and dermatology (126). The patient transfer/nontransfer ratio was 0.5 in Cabo Verde and 0.3 in Albania (p < 0.001). Three hospitals in Albania and eight community hospitals/health care centers in Cabo Verde requested the majority of teleconsultations. Two main hospitals in Cabo Verde and Albania responded to the consultations.
Conclusion:The successful implementation of a telemedicine program depends on many factors. However, physician champions, who eventually create clinical discipline champions, and represent the hospital champions, are the backbone of the sustainability and progress of any telemedicine program. The number of consultations reflects the lack of local specialty expertise to provide health care service and thus can be used for future planning and investment.