A research project conducted in the Himalayas has shown that implementing telehealth technologies to reach patients in rural areas can improve access to care for women and girls.
The findings in rural Nepal are applicable to many other parts of the world where computers and mobile phones are increasingly accessible while patients often live long distances from adequate care.
"By shrinking distance to healthcare services, telemedicine reduces travel, making it easier to manage time out from household chores, reduces treatment expenses, and reduces apprehension female patients may have shared their sexual and reproductive health problems," said Rajan Parajuli, lead author of the study from the Asian Institute of Technology in Bangkok, Thailand.
Parajuli and study co-author, Philippe Doneys, used a mixed method design, tackling the question in multiple ways in hopes of coming to a more convincing conclusion.
First, they obtained telemedicine records from two hospitals in Kathmandu, Nepal and three local telemedicine centers in western Nepal. Those records provided a list of 175 women and girls who had used telemedicine services, either via video conferencing or mobile phone.
About 100 women and girls completed surveys comparing their access to healthcare before and after the introduction of telemedicine. The researchers also conducted in-depth interviews and, in addition to the women and girls, they spoke with a local network provider, health post chiefs, village leaders, school principals, and others about the influence of telemedicine.
The results? Telemedicine reduced the frequency of long-distance travel to hospitals as women can receive care in their own communities.
Study participants reported increased comfort in seeking consultation through telemedicine for sexual and reproductive health matters. Overall, the study showed that telemedicine tends to reduce barriers to healthcare for women and girls in rural areas.
"This should help us understand the gender dynamics of information and communication technologies in healthcare, but also shows the interrelation between gender, technology and health,” Parajuli said. “Thus, I'm hopeful it might be an effective approach to tackle geographic and cultural difficulties in countries facing similar problems like rural Nepal."
The study was reported in the journal Telematics and Informatics.