The minister stated that the telemedicine project, which was established between the Accident and Emergency Department at the Princess Margaret Hospital and the Marsh Harbor Primary Care Clinic in Abaco, is part of the Government's "futuristic thinking" in the area of health care and other aspects of governance and will be expanded "in the future" into other areas of health care including Intensive Care Unit (ICU) management and treatment.
The launch on 3 December met the Minister of Health and Social Development's mandated implementation date of December 2007. "The fact that we are a very large archipelago presents certain challenges where it makes it somewhat difficult to establish medical facilities and institutions in all of the various Family Islands and, at the same time, have the adequate personnel to deal with those patients and deliver quality and equal care to all, be it here in Nassau or as far as Inagua", Minister Minnis stated.
"The establishment of the telemedicine project will allow us to extend the same medical care to the remote islands that the persons in Nassau receive. What telemedicine does is that it allows the Emergency Room to be extended to the Family Islands. What this means is that those patients who are in the Family Islands, be it Abaco or other islands, will be able to be examined by our Emergency Room team here in New Providence in 'real time' and assessed properly before a determination is made as to whether any further treatment is necessary", explained Minister Minnis.
"I am sure that the persons in the Family Islands - beginning with Abaco - who will benefit from this initiative, will be very happy to know that they will be attended to by our senior physicians here in Nassau, in addition to the physicians on the ground, and will have the further assurance that they are not alone (because) their Big Brother here at the Princess Margaret Hospital will be watching them also", Minister Minnis added.
The telemedicine pilot project utilizes the latest fibre optic technology to connect physicians at the Accident and Emergency Department of the Princess Margaret Hospital and Emergency Management physicians or any other consultant as required, with a physician in the Marsh Harbour Primary Care Clinic.
It will also facilitate consultation on any clinical condition, including urgent and emergency cases. After assessing the patients using this service, medical personnel will be able to determine whether those individuals need to be transported to New Providence for treatment and care, or whether they will be able to remain in their respective Family Islands with their family and friends, while being managed and monitored by the medical staff remotely.
Minister Minnis stated that those patients who need to be airlifted to New Providence will continue to be provided for, but that those who can be treated at home will receive the proper care and management in their Family Island communities. Medical experts stated, depending on the treatment needed, that it is most "preferable for the patient" and to an extent their caregivers, to have their cases managed at home or in a familiar environment that includes family and friends.
Minister Minnis stated that the telemedicine pilot programme will also allow health officials to save hundreds of thousands of dollars which can be utilized in other areas of the health care, educational or social sector "depending on the needs of our citizens".
"It is very difficult and almost impossible for us to establish an Emergency Room or hospital setting in every island. That is cost prohibitive", Minister Minnis warned. "And therefore with advanced technology, rather than attempting to establish a Princess Margaret Hospital or a tertiary institution in every island, we can solidify our resources and essentially take the Princess Margaret Hospital and all of our specialist care to the most remote Family Islands so we will all have equal care."
"That is extremely futuristic, (but) that is what this Government is all about. It is not just about today, but it is about tomorrow and tomorrow we will be able to expand that so that not only will we be taking the Emergency Room to the Family Islands, but we will be able to expand the service so that we will be in a position to also take Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and other facilities to the Family Islands", Minister Minnis continued.
"By having this type of technology, one can have patients in those settings monitored by our personnel in the Intensive Care Unit, thereby decreasing the need for individual transportation here to Nassau. Those persons will be examined by our ICU doctors, nurses and other personnel here in New Providence. This is extremely essential, considering the vast geographic composition of the Bahamas", Minister Minnis added.
Minister Minnis stated that Abaco was selected as the first island on which to launch the programme not because it is represented by Prime Minister, Hubert A. Ingraham, but as a result of the fact that along with Exuma and Eleuthera, it places the greatest stress and financial burden on the Air Ambulatory Service. He added that Abaco possesses the technological infrastructure Exuma and Eleuthera do not possess.
"Had any of the other islands possessed the similar structure and had placed the greatest burden on the financial system in terms of Air Ambulatory Services, they would have been chosen, but today, Abaco is in that position", Minister Minnis concluded.