Plataform links doctors to patients from São Tomé

29/07/2013     Smart Cities / eHealth / Medigraf

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A portable computer with an Internet connection and a webcam: from now on, this is all it takes for a doctor in Portugal to evaluate and diagnose a patient in São Tomé and Príncipe, about a thousand kilometers away.

IMVF launched a new version of the Medigraf platform, developed in partnership with Portugal Telecom (PT) and with Government support, which makes it easier for African patients to have telemedicine appointments with doctors from hospitals belonging to the Portuguese National Health Service. None of this was possible up until June, the month when a new age of collaboration in the Health area was born between Portugal and PALOP countries.

The base technology already existed for two years, but had limitations: doctors needed to be in telemedicine rooms, with computers that had the platform installed, which didn’t allow connections between central hospitals and country hospitals. «Now the doctor can use Medigraf in any workstation. He may access it through his tablet, in a meeting room, at the office», explains a PT spokesperson.

The new technology is portable, less expensive and faster, works in Portuguese and is compatible with any equipment or means of diagnosis such as ultrasounds, x-rays or mammograms. Besides allowing the transmission of high quality images, it keeps track of the patient’s information and clinical file.

«In São Tomé and Príncipe people don’t have the economical power to go to their central hospital and, when they do, they find a giant waiting line for specialty appointment» states Carlos Telles de Freitas, IMVF administrator, a non-governmental organization focused on development that has been working in that area for 25 years, promoting the Health for Everyone program.

This new solution was presented simultaneously in two capitals, on the same day in which the first mammogram device was used in S. Tomé and Príncipe. In Lisbon, cardiologists, gynecologists and orthopedists looked into real patients’ cases which would have to be sent to Portugal to be observed. Through this platform, which has an annual cost of around 100 thousand Euros, paid by the project’s several partners, the Health Ministry in S. Tomé and Príncipe hopes to reduce sanitary evacuation costs up to 80%.

The 12 thousand appointments already performed through the platform’s first version made it possible to reduce in over 50% the number of requests of patients’ transfers to Portugal, according to the IMVF. In 2010, 162 patients were transferred, a number cut down to 66 last year. 180 thousand Euros were spared in 2012 alone, the equivalent to a 20% saving in S. Tome’s state Health budget.

Since 2010, the Portuguese Health Ministry has saved around a million Euros, because the expenses are supported by both countries. The cost of those trips between the two countries are, besides financial, also social, says S. Tomé e Príncipe’s Ambassador, Luís Viegas, pointing out that «the social costs are overwhelming».

The next step is, during the coming year, to broaden this telemedicine network to all PALOP countries. Cape Verde and Angola have already approved its integration, which has absolutely no cost for joining countries.

The new platform was also complimented by the Health Secretary of the State, Fernando Leal da Costa, who intends to apply this technology to the telemedicine national network. «If it’s true that it is possible to communicate this way with a country that is thousands of miles away by an underwater cable, it must be easier to do it on national territory», taking advantage of the already existing Health Computing Network, he claimed.

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