By Olubunmi Adeniyi
Lagos. November 3, 2012: A combination of targeted policies and public-private partnerships should be encouraged to facilitate the deployment of broadband to unserved and underserved areas of the country to boost telemedicine.
O.N. Okike, MD/CEO, Digitronics Ltd, gave the advice this week at the Software Conference and Competition organised by the Institute of Software Practitioners of Nigeria (ISPON) in Tinapa, Calabar, Cross River State.
Okike says that government should bolster the nation’s pro-investment regulatory framework for broadband in order to encourage continued innovation of networks and telemedicine technologies.
Telemedicine which he sees as the use of telecoms and IT to provide clinical health care at a distance helps to eliminate distance barriers and can improve access to medical services that would often not be consistently available in distant rural communities.
According to Okike, telemedicine facilitates the prevention of unnecessary loss of lives in critical care and emergencies.
He explains that the traditional boundaries between telemedicine, telehealth and e-health have become blurred partly as a result of the overlapping functions between medicine and public health and their convergence – using the same technology in this instance.
However, Okike says that barriers to telecoms in Nigeria are really hampering the effectiveness of telemedicine in the country.
According to him, poor public power supply, poor security, vandalisation of telecoms infrastructure, high import duty on telecoms equipment ranging between 30 to 70 per cent.
Other factors include anti-competitive practices with some operators alleged to be forming cartels coupled with challenge of high operational cost.
Okike also cites that the type and quantum of funds needed by operators to expand and fund their extensive operations is scarce locally, a major challenge to boosting investments in the sector.
Policy imperative to engender telemedicine, he adds include insurance laws, particularly reimbursement mechanisms, should be updated to promote greater adoption and use of telemedicine services in the country.
Okike adds that the government should craft and implement security standards to ensure that telemedicine services are secure and confidential, adding that the enactment of telemedicine law to guide the system is very important.
According to him, there is need to create an efficient and uniform e-practitioner licensing system that allows and encourages e-practitioners to use broadband-enabled telemedicine services in the treatment of patients regardless of geographic location.
“It is good news that telemedicine has been implemented in Lagos State since 2006 and also that the 2012 National budget has made provision for telemedicine,” he adds.
The way forward is for the nation to faithfully adopt the various policy recommendations and capacity imperatives in order to usher in a successful national telemedicine practice in Nigeria.