E-health lifted by Thai floods
It has often been said that without the Great Fire of London, the capital of England would still be a mess of dark, narrow alleyways. The fire gave city planners a chance to widen and straighten streets, fix any bottlenecks and ultimately, gave rise to an architectural golden age.
The great Thai flood of 2011 is potentially doing the same for Cloud, especially in the usually painfully conservative public sector.
One of the synergistic offspring of technology and connectivity is telemedicine. The benefits have long been extolled and how it can benefit the poor to improve lives and make better use of limited, valuable doctor’s time, contribute to GDP growth and save the world. However, resistance has been fierce from the bureaucracy and old, non-IT savvy, doctors who are risk averse. Yes, it might help, but who would be responsible if something went wrong? Nobody really wants to take the chance.
During the floods, Cisco has installed a full health presence solution at a refugee camp north of Bangkok. Every day, doctors and psychiatrists from Ramathibodi Hospital in inner Bangkok, log on to the system and remotely diagnose patients to the tune of 500 cases a day. Specialized cameras provide high-definition close-up pictures of skin rashes - the most common form of ailment along with eye and ear infections.
Dr Tatchapol Poshayanonda, Cisco Thailand country manager, explained that a total of 20 such units are being rolled out across the country in flood affected areas, all for free. Connectivity is provided by state-owned TOT corporation.
Health presence is more than just a souped-up video conferencing solution. Medical equipment from blood pressure sensors, stethoscopes, close-up cameras and all sorts of other remote health sensing units are provided. Doctors who still will want to write out a prescription on paper can use e-pens that beam the document to a printer at the refugee camp.
The question is what will happen after the floods recede. Will the equipment all be returned and forgotten? Or will the doctors, the telcos and the people actually appreciate the benefits of telemedicine and demand more? Will the need to travel hundreds of miles to large cities and queue up for hours still be the norm in a few years time?
This could be the thin end of the wedge. The floods have forced doctors and nurses into adopting new technology in an extended emergency. The question is will they revert to pen and paper once it is over?