I ALWAYS think that there is a silver lining to every problem. Starting in January, the world was thrown into crisis.
The Covid-19 pandemic has propelled the world to re-evaluate, re-strategize and break norms that have been in place for years.
While countries grapple with over-burdened health systems and disruption in services, a revolution in health care is brewing – one that allows service delivery virtually.
As doctors and patients negotiate the realities of a highly infectious virus, among the myriad solutions that have been presented to them, telemedicine stands out as a new lease of life.
Often hailed as the future of health care, telemedicine has been a crucial lifeline for places that have faced an acute shortage of healthcare personnel. It has reduced the burden on patients who might otherwise have to travel long distances for speciality care, and bridged distances by immediate access to specialised expertise.
It is often less costly and is time-saving, and can provide a safe and effective alternative – especially for the provision of critical sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services.
For instance, in the US, access to abortions has doubled between March and April this year, after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) partnered with a service provider called TelAbortion.
Other countries such as France, Ireland and the UK have enabled the use of telemedicine for remote support of medication abortion, while Belgium is using telemedicine for prescriptions and abortion pre-meetings.
Azerbaijan, Finland and Spain have adopted telemedicine for SRH services, while Germany and Spain (Catalonia) have made it possible for the mandatory counselling session prior to an abortion to take place over the phone or by video chat.
South Africa is not far behind in adopting telemedicine during this crisis. The Health Professionals Council of South Africa (HPCSA) first published the General Ethical Guidelines for Good Practice in Telemedicine in August 2014. This year, the HPCSA updated the guidelines.
This is especially advantageous for many women who have an unmet need for SRH services, such as contraception and abortion.
Marie Stopes South Africa (MSSA) has rolled out the Telemedicine Consultation Service to assist women who are unable to visit the centres to access safe abortion services.
The 20-minute teleconsultation with trained professionals provides details about the procedure, what to expect, delivery or collection process, as well as the aftercare and follow-up process. The teleconsultation, which is available to women and girls who are four to nine weeks into their pregnancy, discusses client eligibility and options available according to the stage of pregnancy, including the option of self-managed pregnancy termination.
MSSA has also established strict protocols and standards for medication termination procedures to provide women with safe, home-based pregnancy option care.
This model has improved access to abortion healthcare services, at lower costs and with positive outcomes.
As we provide more and more services every day, telemedicine is the silver lining, the revolution in health care in the immediate future. This will not only prepare us for any emergencies but also help us ensure that women and their health do not bear the unequal burden that such emergencies place on their shoulders.
Chinogwenya is a communications manager at Marie Stopes South Africa