Telemedicine as a long-term tool for NCDs
With such high levels of NCDs within Jamaica today, telemedicine can be a useful tool to combat the effects and limit the number of associated deaths.(Image: Pexels)

IN Jamaica, an estimated seven out of 10 deaths are caused by the top five non-communicable diseases (NCDs). As such, being a leading cause of death in the island, the Ministry of Health and Wellness has prioritised resources to combat the prevalence of NCDs on the island. With adequate treatment, access to resources and knowledge, death from NCDs can be limited and those diagnosed can live long, healthy lives.

Well-trained doctors, access to medication and information are all key resources in the adequate treatment and diagnosis of NCDs. In a digital age, resources such as telemedicine are great tools for patients with NCDs or who are at risk of contracting them. Understanding the resources available in modern medicine can aid in changing the statistics of NCDs in our favour.

What are NCDs?

NCDs are not passed on from person to person. They tend to be long-term illnesses that occur from a combination of factors including genetic, physiological, environmental and behavioural. The main types of NCDs include:

• Cardiovascular diseases (eg heart attack, stroke)

• Cancers

• Respiratory diseases (eg asthma)

• Diabetes

• Hypertension

Factors increasing the risk of NCDs

• Behavioural factors — smoking, excess alcohol use, poor diet and lack of exercise all increase your risk of contracting an NCD.

• Metabolic risk factors — having high blood pressure, being overweight and having high glucose levels can all increase your risk of developing an NCD.

• Socio-economic factors — NCDs are closely linked to areas of poverty. Low access to adequate health-care resources can cause a higher existence of NCDs.

How does telemedicine come in?

With such high levels of NCDs within Jamaica today, telemedicine can be a useful tool to combat the effects and limit the number of deaths of these patients. Telemedicine involves accessing health care via remote digital technology. Through telemedicine platforms like MDLink, you may speak directly to a health-care professional using audio, video call or even text alone — all from the comfort of your home, office, car, or wherever you feel most comfortable. You can speak to a GP or specialist to aid you through diagnosis, treatment and even if you simply want to access more information from a professional.

The following are direct ways in which telemedicine can aid in the long- and short-term treatment of NCDs.

• Prescriptions — Telemedicine eliminates the inconvenience of having to go to a doctor's office and sit in the waiting room every single time you need a prescription. If you are stable and not in an emergent condition, this may be frustrating and hard to fit into your busy schedule. Your life does not stop simply because you have been diagnosed with an NCD. If you are diabetic, for example, having access to insulin on a daily basis is crucial, but being able to go to the doctor every time you need it may not be a sustainable solution for your lifestyle. This is where telemedicine comes in. It serves as a less time-consuming, convenient means of treatment that allows you to see your doctor right away and have them send your prescription directly to your pharmacy without you having to set foot in their office.

• Routine check-ups — With long-term illness comes long-term treatment. You may have routine check-ups scheduled throughout the year to ensure that everything is fine and there are no negative advances to your illness. Telemedicine can work in place to help you be on top of all your check-ups without disrupting your everyday life.

• Referrals & lab forms — If during your telemedicine visit your doctor has determined that you need a second opinion, in-person specialist care or you need to get some lab tests done, all referral and lab forms can be done and sent to you immediately through telemedicine platforms. This allows you to be able to move forward with your treatment without any delays of having to visit in person to get these forms. This may include doing a lung function test for your asthma or getting blood work done to test your sugar levels. All you have to do is go to the relevant testing facility, such as the MDLink Drive-Thru with your referral form from your online visit, and you will be treated without issue.

• Specialist care to inaccessible areas — Research has determined that those who live in less advantaged areas are more prone to contracting NCDs, particularly because of a lack of resources. If you live in a rural area that has limited access to a GP or specialist, you can access both through telemedicine. This may include getting a consultation that may lead you towards the diagnosis of an NCD or simply making sure you get adequate follow-up treatment to manage your already-diagnosed illness. Additionally, if you may be travelling and not around your usual doctor, you can still receive care from your trusted provider wherever in the world you might be.

• Education — If you have an NCD such as cancer, it is important for you to be educated on your treatment options, how your loved ones can aid in taking care of you and how you can live a healthy life without making it worse. Using telemedicine as an aid in education through a professional health-care provider can help you on your journey living with an NCD.

NCDs should not be left untreated simply because you do not have time to follow up with check-ups, prescriptions or haven't had the chance to even get diagnosed. Reach out to your doctor today if you are at risk of contracting an NCD and see what options are available to you. As widespread as NCDs are, so widespread is telemedicine also. Once you have a device and the Internet you can gain full access to the benefits of telemedicine platforms such as MDLink.

Dr Ché Bowen, a digital health entrepreneur and family physician, is the CEO & founder of MDLink, a digital health company that provides telemedicine options. Check out the company's website at www.theMDLink.com. You can also contact him at drchebowen@themdlink.com.

Dr Ché Bowen

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