Earlier this month, Abu Dhabi-based YahSat, a multipurpose satellite solution provider for government and commercial made an important announcement for the proliferation of health services with Pakistan-based IT solutions provider, Interactive Group. YahSat’s satellite services are used for for broadband, broadcast, government, and communications use across the Middle East, Africa, and Europe in addition to Central and South West Asia. Both companies signed an MoU to combine connectivity and software solutions to extend the reach of jointly offered eHealth services across the global YahClick footprint.
There are typically two challenges involved with the delivery of services: the delivery channel and the service itself. Ready access to data is critical for trends analysis and effectively diagnosing illnesses. The collaboration takes care of coverage, the service and access layers. Interactive’s proprietary software and platform will facilitate the deployment of integrated eHealth solutions through the provision of Telemedicine, Tele-education and Veterinary Telemedicine solutions.
The plan of action is pretty straightforward:
- To connect hospitals across cities with smaller medical centers in rural areas;
- To enable doctors to perform ‘live’ consultation with patients in remote or rural areas thereby overcoming the dearth of medical professionals; and
- To provide document repositories to keep data secure and readily available when needed across hospitals and medical centers.
According to Interactive Group Chief Executive Dr. Shahid Mahmud, the collaboration will benefit users across YahSat’s footprint across 30 countries and cater to millions. “YahSat’s footprint has many countries that are ideal candidates for telemedicine. Therefore the addressable population that can be served is in the millions however we aim to grow organically over time. We are targeting two countries for the first year of operations.” The opportunity is very large since population sizes in remote areas are growing faster than infrastructure and their continues to be a dearth and a growing gap between the supply of skilled doctors and specialists outside of urban centers and the demand outside of large cities.”
He continues, “We are also working on partnering with international donor agencies and the UN to provide medical aid in the form of telemedicine rather than conventional medical interventions.”
Broadly speaking, there are a few components needed to set up a telemedicine site. These include a host site, a hub and the Remote Site. The telemedicine software and associated hardware set up at the Satellite providers gateway or local datacenter. “This location, which may be called the host site, can service multiple telemedicine clinics or remote sites. The telemedicine ‘hub’ is the location where the Doctor(s) and Consultant(s) sit during the session. This can be a large clinic or a tertiary hospital in an urban center. In some cases the medical practitioner, such as a radiologist, may even access the system from home to comment on a report. Lastly, the telemedicine or remote site, is the location where a nurse, practitioner or paramedic may engage with patients and prepare them for their tele-consultation. This usually takes place in rural areas of suburban neighborhoods where access to specialists and qualified doctors is limited.” The type of connectivity at the remote site depends on the best possible solution YahSat has available in the specific location.
Challenges in the emerging markets doesn’t stop at connectivity; power generation is also a hurdle. “Our hardware is very power efficient,” explains Dr. Shahid. “We use low energy processors and screens, powerful video compression and have optimized our software at the code level to be ‘light’ and responsive. The power solution depends on the site but it’s likely that each site would have a Wapda (local power) connection with backup power in the form of UPS, liquid fuel generator, solar/wind or combination of the above.”
More challenges in the ecosystem give rise to the need for greater innovation. “With the reliable power, road network and tertiary hospitals which can serve as hubs will likely be the most significant challenges.” And then there is the training and management of resource. “Finding skilled resources in remote areas, training them and motivating them to provide continued medical care, is also going to be a significant challenge.”
And as with every enterprise, the need to fine tune the business model for each country, will require a short journey through a quick learning curve. But the collaboration isn’t low on ambition by any measure. “We aim to be in more than 5 countries in five years, operating over 50 sites. We believe this is achievable and conservative. Thereafter we can expand to cover thousands of sites.”