Telemedicine Improving Access to Healthcare in the Philippines

pampanga-group-shot

I’m not sure what we expected when we first stepped into the GALA Shelter for street kids. But we were surprised and touched by how well-behaved and respectful the children were. They greeted us with big smiles, and a polite “Good Afternoon,” then touched our hands to their foreheads – a sign of respect to elders in the Philippines. They quickly ran to set up chairs for us to rest, even though we didn’t have time to sit, .

VSee CEO, Milton, with one of the kids at the shelter, Camille

VSee CEO, Milton, with one of the kids at the shelter, Camille

VSee’s First Medical Mission in the Philippines – Camp #1 GALA Shelter for street kids

The medical mission in GALA Shelter was the first of 2 missions we did in the Philippines. GALA (Gabay sa Landas or Guide in the Journey) is a non-profit foundation that takes in orphans and street kids with the permission of the government and any living guardians. They enroll the children in school, nourish them, and give them the love and nurturing they lacked when they roamed the streets of Angono, Rizal.

With nearly 250,000 of them roaming the streets, street children are a big problem in Philippines. They sniff glue, get into bad company, and learn to terrorize or steal. Some have even started approaching vehicles waiting in traffic to throw rocks and break their windows.

However, the kids at GALA are living proof that it doesn’t have to be this way. Placed in an environment where they have been consistently nurtured and cared for, we saw children who were caring, responsive, and eager to learn and serve others. Unfortunately, street kids often suffer from being underweight and may have other health issues.

11-year-old Gabriel or Gab, is at the top of his class in school. He was orphaned when his mother died of tuberculosis, and he is also underweight despite having a good appetite.However, the kids at GALA are living proof that it doesn’t have to be this way. Placed in an environment where they have been consistently nurtured and cared for, we saw children who were caring, responsive, and eager to learn and serve others. Unfortunately, street kids often suffer from being underweight and may have other health issues.

11-year-old Gabriel or Gab, is at the top of his class in school. He was orphaned when his mother died of tuberculosis, and he is also underweight despite having a good appetite.

The medical mission camp provided health check-ups for these children that normally would not have had a chance to see a doctor. Through the telemedicine examinations with the remote pediatrician, the shelter was able to receive recommendations for vitamins and other health tips for the children. We also learned that two common causes of being underweight are tuberculosis or roundworm infection.

Spreading the Possibilities of Telemedicine to Doctors in the Philippines – Camp #2 San Fernando, Pampanga

The second mission camp was in the province of San Fernando, Pampanga. We brought our Home iOS Kit, non-touch digital thermometer, and telemedicine kit devices including the all-in-one scope and digital ultrasound probe.

Jay, one of the shelter parents, with his 7 month old daughter--the latter getting her temperature checked with non-touch digital thermometer

Jay, one of the shelter parents, with his 7 month old daughter–the latter getting her temperature checked with non-touch digital thermometer

 

All were a big hit. The volunteer doctors were expecting us to bring big, bulky equipment and were amazed when they saw just a laptop and small ultrasound probe in the make-shift exam room. We ended up extending our screening time by 2 hours because of all the patients needing ultrasound readings – an expensive procedure in the Philippines.

ultrasound

Seeing the portability of these devices, these veteran doctors became extremely excited with all the possibilities of telemedicine: the ability to offer crucial medical examinations to remote areas and to do more medical mission camps such as this one. One device they requested is a portable X-ray to be able to diagnose tuberculosis on the spot and to prescribe medication. Currently, the process for diagnosing patients with TB is long, expensive, and tedious. Plus the stigma of having such a disease means that many patients don’t get the immediate medical attention they need. WHO still ranks the Philippines as the top 10 in the globe of TB prevalence.

Telemedicine Can Solve Many of the Healthcare Problems in the Philippines

It is undeniable that Filipinos need more access to better healthcare. Doctors say that the low health literacy of Filipinos is leading to a public health crisis. Healthcare providers are alarmed at how the number of Filipinos dying from non-communicable (NCD) and “lifestyle” diseases such as heart attacks, cancers, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, and diabetes – among both the rich and poor. More often than not, patients only start going to see the doctor when they are already very sick and more difficult and expensive to treat.

Former Philippine Health Secretary, Enrique Ore, has said that the Philippines does not lack doctors. The problem is the “maldistribution” of doctors due to a lack of incentives and equipment. More doctors prefer to do their practice in the cities instead of the rural areas. VSee Telemedicine solutions allow healthcare providers to bring their clinics to the underserved individuals, connect them with remote specialists, and access important health records from the cloud.

With this in mind, VSee team is gearing up to do more medical missions and to bring in necessary equipment such as an X-ray machine and ultrasound probes. We want to show the feasibility and benefits of Telemedicine in such areas and get the government and private sectors to invest in this project. The vision is for telemedicine to impact and improve the lives of 50M Filipinos within 10 years.

One Last Story of Telemedicine Saving a Life

 

lola-Isabelita

At our first medical camp, we met Lola (Grandma) Isabelita. She is 83 years old with five grandkids–three of whom are staying in the shelter. All of her 8 kids died due to unknown causes. She claimed they were all healthy, disease-free, with only minor complaints every now and then such as stomachaches and other pains–of course these could be signs of diseases that could lead to death if left untreated. So she now looks after all her orphaned grandchildren, when she has no income except her pension.

When Lola Isabelita got her blood pressure checked at the vitals station of our medical camp, the remote doctor said that her BP was dangerously high, and that she could have a stroke at any moment. Lola insisted she didn’t feel anything unusual and refused to go to the emergency room. The remote doctor instructed the young volunteer nurse in our group on how to assist Lola and get her BP to safe levels. By end ot the day, Lola was told that her blood pressure had normalized but that she should get regular check-ups and medication.

While we were not planning to treat an emergency situation at our telemedicine camp, you could say that between our telemedicine kit devices and our remote doctor, we were able to save a life this day.

Comments ( 3 )
  • Nina
    Dr. Lawrence Wasserman says:

    Were spending millions in health care focusing on treatment where the cost effective focus is on preventive care which is supported by patient education. I worked at WHO Philippines and telehealth can play an important aspect to universal health care. Another aspect that is not discussed or addressed is COSTS. What is the total costs on implementation that includes investment costs, product and supplies, operational, maintenance, training and manpower costs to operate systems. Last area of absence is evaluation … does it provide cost efficient solution using sound testing methodology. The future is bright meeting the needs of underserved and rural areas of developing countries. But the focus needs to address long term health care in an age of physician and health professional manpower shortages.

  • Nina
    anne says:

    Great points, Dr. Wasserman! Can telemedicine really increase accessibility and efficiency in a sustainable way? We believe the answer is a resounding “YES!” and will be addressing many of these issues at the Telehealth Failures & Secrets To Success Conference Dec. 2-4 in San Jose, CA. We have an incredible line-up of health innovation experts from MDLIVE, Microsoft, Dell, DaVita and more. Hope you can join us 🙂

  • Nina
    Dr. Lawrence Wasserman PhD says:

    Thank you Anne. I hope my remarks will awaken all to issues that haven’t been adequately addressed.

    Your answer YES …. may be premature. The devil is in the details and to date its not definite yes but that’s in the eyes of those who may have specific interest in the subject matter. When I delved into kiosks it was like this is it! but then questions arose ROI, investment costs, sustainability, evaluation of kiosks performance etc. … raised that famous saying …its not over till ….. lady sings.

    I am nevertheless positive of telehealth but one needs to tread slowly and not be hyped and telemedicine is the greatest since slice bread.

    My perspective is that preventive care utilizing the necessary tools of patient engagement is where cost benefit resides. For 20 years I used my own health experiences and prevention and health promotion is where impact can be attained. Like cardiac patient if the person is unaware of events that cannot be followed and the person has cardiac episode that results in heart attack etc etc. one can imagine the costs of treatment for that person. One can hypnotize if we had preventive care we could have said to ourselves with monies for preventive care if we used such could have benefited all.

    The event in San Jose is great but not having the benefits of corporate sponsorship that financially unable to attend.

    Keep in touch

    Lawrence

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