Telemedicine project hopes to use technology to reform public healthcare delivery and management in Malaysia, which is under the strain of rising costs, lack of resources and overworked staff.
by Anita Devasahayam
IPOH, 3 July 2000 - Malaysia's pioneer telemedicine project has kicked off in four towns in the northern state of Perak, offering rural folks access to specialist medical opinion without the hassle of long-distance travel.
The pilot is the first flagship application of Malaysia's much-hyped Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC) project.
Project developer WorldCare Health (M) Sdn Bhd stated that it has established a full working model barely six months since it was awarded the government contract in January.
"We are the first MSC project to go live. With this teleconsultation technology, patients at district hospitals can confer with specialists via computer screens and plain old telephones," said WorldCare's director of telemedicine, Datuk Dr Professor Khairuddin Yusof.
Medical officers in the four district hospitals located in Grik, Sri Manjung, Lenggong and Karai can also transmit patient information in video, voice and data to the Ipoh hospital for second opinions instead of physically transferring patients for follow-ups, he said.
"The benefit of such a system is the ability to transmit more precise medical data online and view patient history that will speed up the diagnostic process. Doctors will be able to manage their patients better," he said.
The pilot will initially be used for cardiovascular and cancer patients, tracking ante and peri-natal development, and for trauma and injury prevention cases.
"However, as the system is already there, it can also be used to help patients with other ailments," said Khairuddin, adding that a key group of medical officers and nurses has already been trained to use the system.
WorldCare signed a 21 million ringgit (US$5.5 million) contract with the Ministry of Health to implement the teleconsultation component of Malaysia's telemedicine pilot on January 20 this year.
Telemedicine is one of four flagship applications of the MSC, a multi-billion ringgit project aimed at creating a globally-linked high-tech zone south of Kuala Lumpur.
The other three applications - smart schools, national multi-purpose smartcards and electronic government - have been beset with delays and bureaucratic fumbling in the last three years.
The telemedicine application hopes to use technology to reform public healthcare delivery and management in Malaysia, which is under the strain of rising costs, lack of resources and overworked staff.
Khairuddin said WorldCare plans to wire 41 hospitals across Malaysia by year-end. The network includes the set up of four hub hospitals in Ipoh, Kuala Lumpur, Kota Kinabalu in Sabah and Kota Bahru in Kelantan and 37 "spokes" in district clinics and government hospitals in 12 states.
Khairuddin claimed that once completed, the project will be the first nationally-established telemedicine network of its kind and the world's largest in terms of number of sites.
"WorldCare will provide software, hardware, installation, technical support, operational training and maintenance to facilitate consultation between patients and physicians via linked medical instruments and imaging systems. The medical information will be transmitted via a virtual private network to maintain security," he said.
WorldCare Health Malaysia is a joint venture of global health service company WorldCare Limited, local medical group Pantai Holdings Bhd, Mitsubishi Corporation of Japan and Concorde Investments Limited of Saudi Arabia.
The WorldCare Consortium provides electronic second medical opinions from hospitals such as the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, Duke University Hospital and Health System, Johns Hopkins Medicine and Partners HealthCare System, Inc and other teaching hospitals of Harvard Medical School.