TSTT / Medstar add “peace of mind” with medical help line service.

From remote monitoring for heart disease and stroke to blood pressure testing and reminders for taking medicine, telehealth has changed the way people get professional medical support for ailments. Telemedicne or telehealth is the practice of utilizing telephone connections to link patients and /or their health monitoring equipment to a personal health care provider, often hundreds or thousands of miles apart. This method of delivering health care has given patients a meteoric rise in timely access to treatment and reducing overcrowding and long wait times at healthcare facilities all over the world.

The World Health Organization noted that Telehealth is understood to mean the integration of telecommunication systems into the practice of protecting and promoting health and acknowledges that Telehealth corresponds closely to the international activities of WHO in public health.

Since November 2006, TSTT in partnership with 800 STAR Limited started making telehealth services available to customers through the MedStar Telephone Nurse Triage helpline. The benefits of the service were seen almost immediately.

Earlier this year, 29 year old labourer, Cameron Boodoo of Couva faced a critical situation in the middle of the night when his mother began experiencing a persistent pain in her feet. “I wasn’t exactly sure what to do,” said Boodoo. He contemplated taking her to hospital at that time of night but also wondered if the problem was not severe and could wait until the morning. Going to the hospital could mean a long wait in which case he would have to miss work but his mother was in severe discomfort. He remembered that he had subscribed to MedStar 24 hour toll free nurse helpline through TSTT and decided to make the call to access medical advice from overseas nurses. Within ten minutes he was on the phone with a Canadian nurse talking through his mother’s symptoms. “It was a strange experience,” Boodoo recalls, “being able to speak to a medical professional, who seemed to have all the time for me and my mother. She gave me some advice to help make my mother comfortable and suggested we follow up with the doctor or call back if symptoms persisted.”

According to Roger Mahadeo – CEO of 800-Star LTD., “Telephone Triage Nurses in Europe, the USA and Canada have successfully handled millions of triage calls from all over the world.” Mahadeo explained that the function of the telephone triage nurse is to determine the severity of the caller’s complaint and direct the caller to the appropriate emergency services if necessary. “They may also recommend medical follow up based on their assessment and established triage protocols, and provide health information.” Nurses have been giving advice over the phone for as long as phones have been around, but the new computer-aided systems and equipment that are available now are amazing.

The service was launched in collaboration with TSTT because TSTT’s fixedline infrastructure reaches over three hundred thousand homes and businesses including very remote rural communities and is at their disposal 24/7. Brian Clark Head of Fixed line Marketing, at TSTT says this infrastructure makes telehealth an inexpensive and practical way for many people to get the medical information they need to make the best decision about their treatment. “TSTT continues to invest hundreds of millions of dollars to expand fixedline service and energize it with highspeed data capabilities so that at some point in the future, video and data from personal monitoring equipment can be sent on the phone line for doctors and patients to have virtual visits in the convenience of the patient’s home.”

Telehealth services actually relieve the demands placed on ‘brick and mortar’ health care facilities by creating a virtual office for pre-screening. According to a report published by Business & Health, July 1996 & Kaiser Permanente, approximately 40% of healthcare is simply an exchange of information between healthcare providers and patients so a trip to a doctor’s office is not really necessary. The report also found that over 50% of emergency department visits are non-urgent and could be treated in a lower cost setting and over 40% of physician office visits could be handled by phone. TSTT’s Brian Clark said “Our telecoms infrastructure underpins almost every activity in the country so we have adopted the socially responsible position of using it to add value and improve the lifestyle of our customers while at the same time enabling other institutions to deliver their services more efficiently”

This view was endorsed by one of the country’s largest private healthcare networks, HEALTHNET. According to CEO Dr. Neil Parsan, MedStar is an enhancement to the health services of T&T. ”Patient’s will benefit from easy access to health information and advice to better manage their health. Doctor’s will benefit from fewer out of hours calls, and the call center can even route calls or make appointments, if necessary. The result is improved efficiency in time and cost.”

How It Works -

MedStar’s nurse advice begins when a call comes into MedStar’s Call Centre on 800-STAR (7827). MedStar’s help line coordinators take the caller’s information, and makes a call back to the caller with the nurse. Most calls are returned within 15 minutes. This is to allow calls to be prioritized, so that medically emergent calls are returned before others. If callers have an urgent (but non-emergency) medical situation, the nurse will talk with the caller and work through the caller’s symptoms and will recommend care advice to the caller.