Big move by the Health and Wellness Ministry

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

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The Health and Wellness Ministry's signing, last month, of framework agreements with 10 radiology providers to facilitate increased access to some diagnostic services for patients in the public health-care system has not grabbed the requisite attention.

But, as announced at the signing ceremony, services to be provided under the agreements include computerised tomography (CT) scans, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), ultrasound, endoscopy, and histopathology.

The list of participating providers includes some of the top companies in that field, and the fact that they are in different locations across the island gives Jamaicans who will need the services convenience of access.

That, we believe, is one of the impressive benefits of this initiative which is made available under the Enhancing Health Services Delivery Project — part of the Government's strategy to reduce wait time and overcrowding at public hospitals.

But even more encouraging is the fact that Jamaicans utilising the public health system will not, on being referred to the private providers, be required to pay for the diagnostic services.

That point was emphasised by Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton, who signed the framework agreements with representatives of the private companies.

The ministry estimates that more than 60,000 people will benefit from the arrangement and it is expected that it will cost the State approximately $200 million in the first year.

That, of course, is a lot of money, but it can't be too much if it helps limit spending on healthcare, which is one of the benefits of diagnostic testing. Indeed, experts in the health services field also tell us that diagnostic testing improves patient care, as between 60 per cent and 70 per cent of medical decisions are based on in vitro diagnostic test results.

Additionally, diagnostic tests offer health professionals the benefit of making decisions on care and treatment based on early diagnosis which, as we all know, is critical, especially in combating infectious diseases and preventing or limiting damage from non-communicable diseases.

We are also told that other benefits of diagnostic testing are reductions in the risk of trial-and-error treatment and overprescription, a shortening of the time before treatment begins, and decreases in the length of hospital stays.

That last benefit was highlighted by Mr Robert Nelson, general manager of Apex Radiology, one of the private providers in this arrangement.

“As we heal the nation, one diagnosis at a time, we expect to see shortened waiting times, reduced length of stay and greater availability of hospital beds for more critical needs,” Mr Nelson said at the signing ceremony.

This public/private partnership, we hold, is a good arrangement and one that we expect will meet its stated objectives.

We also note Dr Tufton's revelation that the second and more sustainable long-term initiative under the Enhancing Health Services Delivery Project is the equipping of hospitals with well-needed diagnostic machines.

That can't happen too soon, for our public hospitals have been plodding on for too long without being able to offer these services.

The minister and his team have done this country proud.


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