For a community doctor in the rural and urban poor areas, it is rewarding to hear stories of saved lives such as Teena and her baby’s. There are more Teenas out there who are now benefiting from medical technologies made available and accessible to them.
But there are also many more Filipino mothers who die unnecessarily because of persistent health care problems in the country. These are the poor mothers: unable to afford the high out-of-pocket costs of health care, their local health centers and nearest hospitals lacking in medicine and life-saving equipment. They likewise have little access to health workers.
Can technology be used to help them? In this time and age when we can do banking and shopping, among others, through our gadgets, it is also possible to provide distance medical care?
The answer is a resounding “Yes!”
And that is what the RxBox program is all about. The RxBox is biomedical telehealth device capable of capturing and transmitting physiologic signals across distances. Further research led to the current RxBox that combines thee health technologies: the RxBox device an electronic medical record, and telemedicine. It has built-in medical sensors that can measure a patient’s blood pressure, temperature, pulse rate, heart activity, the contractions of the mother’s womb during labor and delivery, and the baby’s heart rate. The data gathered is store in an electronic medical record called the CHITS, or the Community Health Information Tracking System. When needed, pertinent information is teleconsulted with clinical specialists based in the Philippine General Hospital, Eastern Visayas Regional Medical Center, or the Baguio General Hospital and Medical Center.
The development of telemedicine to reach the rural poor in the Philippines was initiated in 2004 by the University of the Philippines National Institute of Health, National Telehealth Center (UP NIH NTHC). Doctors in remote communities were engaged to send tele-consults on complex cases to clinical specialists in the Philippine General Hospital. In 2007, telemedicine was further developed through the Department of Science and Technology-Philippine Council for Health Research and Development and the University of the Philippines (Manila and Diliman campuses) and produced the RxBox.
The RxBox programs aims to address the inequity in access to health care by enabling health providers and managers to use technology to diagnose and treat patients and manage the health systems better. The RxBox integrates technologies with building capacities of frontline car providers in government primary care centers to use these ethically in patient care and public health management. Addressing global and national concerns, the focus of the RxBox program is two-pronged: to improve maternal and child health, and to control non-communicable diseases. This is consistent with the Philippine Development Plant, DOST’s commitment to use science and technology towards better provision of health services especially among the poor, and the Department of Health’s call for Kalusugan Pangkalahatan.
Written by: Dr. Portia Grace Fernandez-Marcelo Director, National Telehealth Centre of University of the Philippines Manila Published by: Department of Science and Technology-Science and Technology Information Institute (DOST-STII)