Our hospitals – the trenches where the COVID-19 battle was and is still raging – have become risky places for both patients and healthcare workers. Governments must take unprecedented steps to mobilize resources in order to give hospitals and healthcare workers the tools to combat this deadly pandemic. As of May, more than 100 countries are resorting to varying measures of re-lockdowns, social distancing, and the production of personal protective equipment (PPE) to limit transmission. But these measures are insufficient to stop the overstretching of healthcare systems that were already overwhelmed before COVID-19.
Government leaders and other stakeholders, therefore, need to reshape how healthcare services are delivered. Some countries including Australia, Singapore, and a few others are quietly encouraging the use of tele-health services. However, we aren’t seeing equivalent efforts across the board to mobilize digital innovations, especially tele-medicine – the ability to deliver healthcare services remotely, using computing devices and customer-facing artificial intelligence (AI) powered apps.
This approach could be a game-changer for the Egyptian healthcare industry – but scaling its implementation will require well-coordinated action between governments, tech firms, and healthcare providers to overcome existing barriers.
In August 2020, and for the first time, the Egyptian General Healthcare Authority for the comprehensive health insurance system started applied the tele-medicine service for one million citizens in Port Said governorate. The authority launched a new online application called “Al-Balto,” which means “Coat” to provide medical care in eight specializations of pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, psychology, nutrition, dermatology, and venereology disease, in both Arabic and English. Despite such efforts, yet tele-medicine will face many challenges.
Tele-medicine can play an essential role in solving the global challenges facing health systems. Particularly, when tele-medicine is being a part of the national health strategy. In Egypt, various socio-economic applications in eGovernment, eBusinesses, and eLearning have been developed. However, tele-medicine and eHealth applications are still not optimally deployed due to many common reasons, such as:
1. Technology inertia — a resistance to innovation
Resistance to change (which faces many of health informatics applications).
2. How to fix reimbursement issues
Unclear business model for tele-medicine i.e., which services could be provided, who will pay, and how much will be paid.
3. Integrating Artificial Intelligence to hospitals and clinical practice
Unavailability of an efficient infrastructure to promote tele-medicine services (high bandwidth and the special equipment) in the rural areas.
4. The regulatory and data-sharing environment
Unavailability of regulatory bodies for: accrediting tele-medicine eHealth systems and healthcare organization, issuing best practices and guidelines, certifying the medical staff, etc.
5. Patient empowerment and public engagement
Figuring out how to encourage patients to receive treatment in the comfort of their homes will be critical. The viral videos of doctors begging the public to stay at home show the pain and challenges ahead for hospitals and doctors. Similar to social distances campaigns strategies, governments could use public health campaigns, and online education programs to drive tele-medicine adoption and ensure that the public can still receive healthcare services.
Accordingly, tele-medicine involves many advantages along with great challenges. Therefore, this work provides an overall roadmap for tele-medicine in Egypt in terms of four different trends, representing four different perspectives, namely, governmental, financial, technological, and medical perspectives. These trends are also strongly aligned to the global trends in tele-medicine. Lastly, a main recommendation is to incorporate tele-medicine into an Egyptian eHealth initiative to guarantee success and sustainability.