The revival of telemedicine in the age of COVID-19: Benefits and impediments for Pakistan

Dear Editor

Defined as “the use of information and telecommunication technologies (ICT) in medicine, telemedicine intends to provide appropriate healthcare at a distance, hence eliminating the need for direct contact between a patient and physician [1]. It can be classified according to the type of interaction (pre-recorded or real-time) and type of format in which information is conveyed (videos, pictures, audio, etc.) [2]. Particularly in the setting of a natural or man-made disaster, telemedicine is known to function as a key component in the emergency response, enabling people to access routine care and health support despite widespread disruptions in health services [3].

The relevance of telemedicine to our health systems is more evident than ever today as we continue to battle the COVID- 19 pandemic that has modified our lifestyle and approach to medical care. In the face of lockdowns and social distancing protocols, telemedicine technologies are being employed for online consultations, monitoring and evaluating symptoms, tracking and circumventing COVID-19 hotspots, and addressing individual concerns through chat bots [4].

Although the age of COVID-19 has significantly propelled the adoption of telemedicine services globally, its market was booming even prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, with a market size estimated around US$50 billion as of 2019, projected to increase over 9-fold in the coming decade [5]. A growing body of literature supports the role of telemedicine in providing timely, affordable, and premium quality healthcare services surpassing geographical barriers, which is especially advantageous for resource limited countries. However, while it is being integrated in the health infrastructure in USA, Europe and South East Asia with increasing momentum, its future in the developing world remains obscure [6].

Although the rate is considerably slower than developed countries, developing countries are gradually adapting to the changing times with efforts to make high-quality healthcare accessible to the masses from the comfort of their residence via digital interventions. Sub-Saharan Africa, for example, has reported a significant increase in mobile health technology [7]. The implementation of telemedicine amid a concomitant burden of communicable and non-communicable diseases in low and middle income countries (LMICs) can have consequential impacts in addressing the basic health needs of the population. By reducing travel costs and time, telemedicine enables rural and marginalized communities to access the same quality of medical resources and care as urban dwellers, and promotes health equity [6].

Outcomes of Renal Trauma in Indian Urban Tertiary Healthcare Centres: A Multicentre Cohort Study

Renal trauma is present in 0.5–5% of patients admitted for trauma. Advancements in radiologic imaging and minimal-invasive techniques have led to decreased need for surgical intervention. We used a large trauma cohort to characterise renal trauma patients, their management and outcomes.

We analysed “Towards Improved Trauma Care Outcomes in India” cohort from four urban tertiary public hospitals in India between 1st September 2013 and 31st December 2015. The data of patients with renal trauma were extracted using International Classification of Diseases 10 codes and analysed for demographic and clinical details.

A total of 16,047 trauma patients were included in this cohort. Abdominal trauma comprised 1119 (7%) cases, of which 144 (13%) had renal trauma. Renal trauma was present in 1% of all the patients admitted for trauma. The mean age was 28 years (SD-14.7). A total of 119 (83%) patients were male. Majority (93%) were due to blunt injuries. Road traffic injuries were the most common mechanism (53%) followed by falls (29%). Most renal injuries (89%) were associated with other organ injuries. Seven of the 144 (5%) patients required nephrectomy. Three patients had grade V trauma; all underwent nephrectomy. The 30-day in-hospital mortality, in patients with renal trauma, was 17% (24/144).

Most renal trauma patients were managed nonoperatively. 89% of patients with renal trauma had concomitant injuries. The renal trauma profile from this large cohort may be generalisable to urban contexts in India and other low- and middle-income countries.

Training programme in gasless laparoscopy for rural surgeons of India (TARGET study) – Observational feasibility study

Benefits of laparoscopic surgery are well recognised but uptake in rural settings of low- and middle-income countries is limited due to implementation barriers. Gasless laparoscopy has been proposed as an alternative but requires a trained rural surgical workforce to upscale. This study evaluates a feasibility of implementing a structured laparoscopic training programme for rural surgeons of North-East India.

A 3-day training programme was held at Kolkata Medical College in March 2019. Laparoscopic knowledge and Fundamentals of Laparoscopic Skills (FLS) were assessed pre and post simulation training using multiple choice questions and the McGill Inanimate System for Training and Evaluation of Laparoscopic Skills (MISTELS), respectively. Competency with an abdominal lift device was assessed using the Objective Structured Assessment of Technical Skills (OSATS) and live operating performance via the Global Operative Assessment of Laparoscopic Skills (GOALS) scores during live surgery. Costs of the training programme and qualitative feedback were evaluated.

Seven rural surgeons participated. There was an improvement in knowledge acquisition (mean difference in MCQ score 5.57 (SD = 4.47)). The overall normalised mean MISTELS score for the FLS tasks improved from 386.02 (SD 110.52) pre-to 524.40 (SD 94.98) post-training (p = 0.09). Mean OSATS score was 22.4 out of 35 (SD 3.31) indicating competency with the abdominal lift device whilst a mean GOALS score of 16.42 out of 25 (SD 2.07) indicates proficiency in performing diagnostic laparoscopy using the gasless technique during live operating. Costs of the course were estimated at 354 USD for trainees and 461 USD for trainers.

Structured training programme in gasless laparoscopy improves overall knowledge and skills acquisition in laparoscopic surgery for rural surgeons of North-East India. It is feasible to deliver a training programme in gasless laparoscopy for rural surgeons. Larger studies are needed to assess the benefits for wider adoption in a similar context.

Role of General Practitioners in transforming surgical care in rural Nepal – A descriptive study from eastern Nepal.

Introduction: Nepal is a low-to-middle-income country (LMIC) with a predominantly rural population. Almost 10-20% of patients presenting to hospital require surgical care. The availability of skilled human resources in managing surgical care in rural areas of Nepal has to expand to meet this need. The objective of this study is to describe and demonstrate how General Practitioners (GPs) can be upskilled to provide surgical care in rural district hospitals in Nepal.

Method: It is a retrospective review of all surgical procedures performed by GPs from 1st February 2016 to 31st January 2021 at Charikot hospital. Data was collected from a prospectively maintained Electronic Health Record (EHR) system (Bahmini). Details of data collected included name of the procedure and its respective specialty. GP Task shifting and targeted surgical training programs for common orthopedic procedures and pediatric herniotomy were described in detail.

Result: A wide range of surgical procedures were performed by GPs over 5 years. This included interventions for obstetric emergencies, trauma and orthopedics, gynecological issues, general surgery of adult and childhood. A total of 2037 surgeries were performed by GPs including: Cesarean section 25%, 19.7% were orthopedics surgeries followed by 13.5% of mesh repair for abdominal hernia, 9.3% eversion of sac for Hydrocele, 8.7% appendectomy, 5.2% hysterectomy, 3% of pediatric herniotomy and others.

Conclusion: GPs can be further trained to perform important common surgical procedures to improve access to surgical care for rural communities.

Counselling and pregnancy outcomes in women with congenital heart disease- current status and gap analysis from Madras Medical College Pregnancy And Cardiac disease (M-PAC) registry

Congenital heart disease (CHD) is becoming an increasingly important cause of heart disease in pregnancy in low- and middle – income countries (LMICs). Preconception and contraception counselling based on risk stratification has the potential to reduce maternal complications. Data is lacking from LMICs on the availability and effectiveness of preconception counselling (PCC) in women with CHD (WWCHD).

Madras Medical College Pregnancy and Cardiac disease (M-PAC) Registry is a single center prospective observational registry conducted at a tertiary referral institution in South India from July 2016 to December 2019. Baseline features and feto-maternal outcomes were compared in WWCHD with and without PCC. Predictors of post-delivery contraception were identified.

Of the 107 eligible pregnancies with data on counselling, only 49.5% had received PCC. Pregnancies involving women with corrected CHDs (62.3% vs 33.3%; P ​= ​0.006) and cyanotic CHD (20.8% vs 11.1%; P ​= ​0.042) were more likely to get PCC. High risk mWHO categories were non-significantly less likely to get PCC (32% vs 39%). Primary outcome of death or heart failure was non-significantly low in the PCC group (3.8% vs 7.4% P ​= ​0.4). Patients with high risk m WHO categories were less likely to get Tier I contraceptives post-delivery (46% vs 79.7% P ​= ​0.004).

Preconception and post conception counselling, which have the potential to improve outcome in WWCHD, are being underused in LMICs. Health care systems should ensure multidisciplinary pregnancy and heart team approach to offer timely lesion specific pre-conceptional counselling, shared decision making and appropriate peri-pregnancy care for WWCHD.

Evaluation and usability study of low-cost laparoscopic box trainer “Lap-Pack”: a 2-stage multicenter cohort study

Laparoscopic training is restricted in low resource settings due to limited access to specialist training equipment and financial constraints. This study aimed to evaluate simulation skills and usability of an original low-cost laparoscopic trainer, the “Lap-Pack,” developed at the University of Leeds, UK.

Stage I evaluation was conducted in Kolkata (India) between March, 12 and 14, 2019. Laparoscopic simulation training was based on the 5 domains of fundamentals of laparoscopic surgery (FLS), which assessed skill acquisition across 7 rural surgeons from North-East India. The McGill Inanimate System for Training and Evaluation of Laparoscopic Skills (MISTELS) criteria was used to statistically analyze trainee performance between pretraining and posttraining sessions. Also, Lap-Pack was qualitatively compared with a commercial box trainer, Inovus Pyxus HD (IPHD). Stage II involved a multi-center usability study in 2 centers of India and the United Kingdom (2019). Seventy-eight participants performed 2 FLS tasks using Lap-Pack and provided scores on a 25-point questionnaire, including a preestablished Face-Validity Criteria and 4 evaluation categories—Usability, Camera, View, and, Material.

In stage I, the total posttraining MISTELS score for Lap-Pack was higher, that is 773.37 (SD: 183.67) than pretraining score, that is 351.2 (SD: 471.5). The posttraining scores showed laparoscopic skill acquisition with statistically significant (P<0.05) difference for precision cutting, intracorporeal and extracorporeal knot. In stage II, Lap-Pack scored highly in Face-Validity with a combined mean score of 4.81 [95% confidence interval (CI): 4.52–5.09, P<0.05] out of a possible 6. It scored highest (scale: 1=low to 7=high) in Usability 6.14 (95% CI: 6.05–6.22, P<0.05) and Camera 6.14 (95% CI: 6.01–6.27, P<0.05). The “Lightweight” (6.46, 95% CI: 6.32–6.60, P<0.05) and “Portability” (6.35, 95% CI: 6.18–6.51, P<0.05) features of Lap-Pack were appreciated.

The Lap-Pack is a suitable low fidelity simulator for laparoscopic training in a low-resource setting.

Empowering The Rural Surgeons, The Way Forward For Meeting The Surgical Needs Of Rural Areas

Globally, 60% of the surgical procedures are carried out for 15% of the world population in developed countries. The Lancet commission on Global surgery estimates that a population of 100000 would ideally require 5000 surgical procedures every year. Although the national average is about 800 in most of the rural areas in India, in the North-eastern states it varies from 30 to 300. We look at the various models and options available for empowering the surgeons in the rural areas. Short Term Medical Missions have been used for a long time including those with structured programs. Pioneering long term medical missions are few and difficult to sustain. Empowering surgeons working in rural areas with modern surgical techniques is a sustainable solution with high impact. Empowering the rural surgeons with training in Gas Insufflation Less Laparoscopic Surgeries and Endoscopic Urology surgeries helped the surgical coverage in the target population of the 8 rural hospitals studied go up from 1287 per 100000 per year to 2880 the next year and 3739 the following year. It is a financially sustainable model that could be scaled up by funding travel of the trainers and equipment for the trainees.

Reimagining Universal Health Coverage: Safe and Affordable Surgery

UN sustainable development goals (SDGs) and universal health coverage (UHC) are significant health goals the world needs to achieve. Despite concerted efforts to attain UHC, the world is still lagging. Compared to the sizable number of resources put into the treatment of well-known communicable diseases, such as HIV/AIDs, tuberculosis, and malaria, surgery is relatively underutilized despite its potential. Scaling up surgical interventions, however, is crucial since it can save many people’s lives and help avert the economic losses incurred due to diseases. Moreover, increased surgical capacity in low-to-middle-income countries (LMICs) could prove useful in overcoming pandemics, such as COVID-19. To upgrade the surgical capacity of the LMICs, it is essential to incorporate National Surgical, Obstetric, and Anaesthesia Plans (NSOAPs) into their national health policies. In this paper, the illustrative cases of two countries that adopted NSOAPs with a different model. Zambia and Pakistan, are examined. We conclude by giving recommendations to countries that are yet to adopt NSOAPs

Readiness to Provide Antenatal Corticosteroids for Threatened Preterm Birth in Public Health Facilities in Northern India

In 2014, the Government of India (GOI) released operational guidelines on the use of antenatal corticosteroids (ACS) in preterm labor. However, without ensuring the quality of childbirth and newborn care at facilities, the use of ACS in low- and middle-income countries is potentially harmful. This study assessed the readiness to provide ACS at primary and secondary care public health facilities in northern India.

A cross-sectional study was conducted in 37 public health facilities in 2 districts of Haryana, India. Facility processes and program implementation for ACS delivery were assessed using pretested study tools developed from the World Health Organization (WHO) quality of care standards and WHO guidelines for threatened preterm birth.

Key gaps in public health facilities’ process of care to provide ACS for threatened preterm birth were identified, particularly concerning evidence-based practices, competent workforce, and actionable health information system. Emphasis on accurate gestational age estimation, quality of childbirth care, and quality of preterm care were inadequate. Shortage of trained staff was widespread, and a disconnect was found between knowledge and attitudes regarding ACS use. ACS administration was provided only at district or subdistrict hospitals, and these facilities did not uniformly record ACS-specific indicators. All levels lacked a comprehensive protocol and job aids for identifying and managing threatened preterm birth.

ACS operational guidelines were not widely disseminated or uniformly implemented. Facilities require strengthened supervision and standardization of threatened preterm birth care. Facilities need greater readiness to meet required conditions for ACS use. Increasing uptake of a single intervention without supporting it with adequate quality of maternal and newborn care will jeopardize improvement in preterm birth outcomes. We recommend updating and expanding the existing GOI ACS operational guidelines to include specific actions for the safe and effective use of ACS in line with recent scientific evidence.

Quality of Life in Patients Undergoing Cardiac Surgery: Role of Coping Strategies

Adaptive coping strategies are used to reduce stress in patients undergoing cardiac surgery. These strategies have a major role in physical health, psychological health, quality of life and also affect an individual’s response to the disease. The current study was conducted to comprehend the impact of coping strategies on the quality of life of patients suffering from cardiac disease. A purposive convenient sampling method was used to collect data from different hospitals in South Punjab. We applied Carver’s Brief Coping Orientation to Problem Experienced (Brief COPE) inventory and the WHO quality of life scale. A cross-sectional research design was proposed for the study. The findings of the study showed that coping strategies and quality of life are associated with each other, and the use of emotion-focused and problem-focused coping strategies have a significant impact on patients experiencing cardiac surgery. Demographic details of patients also revealed the differences in both variables. Implications and future recommendations have also been discussed.