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].

Disruptions of neurological services, its causes and mitigation strategies during COVID-19: a global review

Background
The COVID-19 pandemic leads to disruptions of health services worldwide. To evaluate the particular impact on neurological services a rapid review was conducted.

Methods
Studies reporting the provision of neurological services during the pandemic and/or adopted mitigation strategies were included in this review. PubMed and World Health Organization’s (WHO) COVID-19 database were searched. Data extraction followed categories used by WHO COVID-19 pulse surveys and operational guidelines on maintaining essential health services during COVID-19.

Findings
The search yielded 1101 articles, of which 369 fulfilled eligibility criteria, describing data from 210,419 participants, being adults (81%), children (11.4%) or both (7.3%). Included articles reported data from 105 countries and territories covering all WHO regions and World Bank income levels (low income: 1.9%, lower middle: 24.7%, upper middle: 29.5% and high income; 44.8%). Cross-sectoral services for neurological disorders were most frequently disrupted (62.9%), followed by emergency/acute care (47.1%). The degree of disruption was at least moderate for 75% of studies. Travel restrictions due to lockdowns (81.7%) and regulatory closure of services (65.4%) were the most commonly reported causes of disruption. Authors most frequently described telemedicine (82.1%) and novel dispensing approaches for medicines (51.8%) as mitigation strategies. Evidence for the effectiveness of these measures is largely missing.

Interpretation
The COVID-19 pandemic affects all aspects of neurological care. Given the worldwide prevalence of neurological disorders and the potential long-term neurological consequences of COVID-19, service disruptions are devastating. Different strategies such as telemedicine might mitigate the negative effects of the pandemic, but their efficacy and acceptability remain to be seen.

Tele-health and cancer care in the era of COVID-19: New opportunities in low and middle income countries (LMICs)

In the current era of COVID-19 pandemic where at least some degree of social distancing is the norm and hospitals have emerged as hotspots for acquiring the infection, it has become important for oncologists to devise methods of providing care to cancer patients while minimizing patients’ exposure to healthcare settings. In light of the on-going pandemic, it has been recommended that in-patient visits for cancer patients should be substituted by virtual visits and patients should be advised to proceed directly for infusion treatment. Telemedicine and tele-health based interventions have emerged as reasonably practical solutions to these impediments in the delivery of care to cancer patients. Technological advancements have resolved the issue of connectivity for telemedicine even to the remotest places. Teleconsultation is becoming an acceptable alternative for patients and health care providers in this era of information technology. Albeit the challenges that we are facing are diverse and therefore cannot have a singular full proof answer, telemedicine and tele-health based interventions seem to offer promise in effectively complementing our efforts in that direction. Telemedicine is beneficial for both patients and doctors in term to provide quality care without shifting to physical location.

Usability of Mobile Health Apps for Postoperative Care: Systematic Review

Background: Mobile health (mHealth) apps are increasingly used postoperatively to monitor, educate, and rehabilitate. The usability of mHealth apps is critical to their implementation.

Objective: This systematic review evaluates the (1) methodology of usability analyses, (2) domains of usability being assessed, and (3) results of usability analyses.

Methods: The A Measurement Tool to Assess Systematic Reviews checklist was consulted. The Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses reporting guideline was adhered to. Screening was undertaken by 2 independent reviewers. All included studies were assessed for risk of bias. Domains of usability were compared with the gold-standard mHealth App Usability Questionnaire (MAUQ).

Results: A total of 33 of 720 identified studies were included for data extraction. Of the 5 included randomized controlled trials (RCTs), usability was never the primary end point. Methodology of usability analyses included interview (10/33), self-created questionnaire (18/33), and validated questionnaire (9/33). Of the 3 domains of usability proposed in the MAUQ, satisfaction was assessed in 28 of the 33 studies, system information arrangement was assessed in 11 of the 33 studies, and usefulness was assessed in 18 of the 33 studies. Usability of mHealth apps was above industry average, with median System Usability Scale scores ranging from 76 to 95 out of 100.

Conclusions: Current analyses of mHealth app usability are substandard. RCTs are rare, and validated questionnaires are infrequently consulted. Of the 3 domains of usability, only satisfaction is regularly assessed. There is significant bias throughout the literature, particularly with regards to conflicts of interest. Future studies should adhere to the MAUQ to assess usability and improve the utility of mHealth apps.

The Role of the Orthopaedic Surgeon in the COVID-19 Era: Cautions and Perspectives

The current coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has revolutionized global healthcare in an unprecedented way and with unimaginable repercussions. Resource reallocation, socioeconomic confinement and reorganization of production activities are current challenges being faced both at the national and international levels, in a frame of uncertainty and fear. Hospitals have been restructured to provide the best care to COVID-19 patients while adopting preventive strategies not to spread the infection among healthcare providers and patients affected by other diseases. As a consequence, the concept of urgency and indications for elective treatments have been profoundly reshaped. In addition, several providers have been recruited in COVID-19 departments despite their original occupation, resulting in a profound rearrangement of both inpatient and outpatient care. Orthopaedic daily practice has been significantly affected by the pandemic. Surgical indications have been reformulated, with elective cases being promptly postponed and urgent interventions requiring exceptional attention, especially in suspected or COVID-19+ patients. This has made a strong impact on inpatient management, with the need of a dedicated staff, patient isolation and restrictive visiting hour policies. On the other hand, outpatient visits have been limited to reduce contacts between patients and the hospital personnel, with considerable consequences on post-operative quality of care and the human side of medical practice.

In this review, we aim to analyze the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on the orthopaedic practice. Particular attention will be dedicated to opportune surgical indication, perioperative care and safe management of both inpatients and outpatients, also considering repercussions of the pandemic on resident education and ethical implications.

Remote Monitoring of Clubfoot Treatment With Digital Photographs in Low Resource Settings: Is It Accurate?

Background: Clinical examination and functional assessment are often the first steps to assess outcome of clubfoot treatment. Clinical photographs may be an adjunct used to assess treatment outcomes in lower resourced settings where physical review by a specialist is limited. We aimed to evaluate the diagnostic performance of photographic images of patients with clubfoot in assessing outcome following treatment.

Methods: In this single-centre diagnostic accuracy study, we included all children with clubfoot from a cohort treated between 2011 and 2013, in 2017. Two physiotherapists trained in clubfoot management calculated the Assessing Clubfoot Treatment (ACT) score for each child to decide if treatment was successful or if further treatment was required. Photographic images were then taken of 79 feet. Two blinded orthopaedic surgeons assessed three sets of images of each foot (n = 237 in total) at two time points (two months apart). Treatment for each foot was rated as ‘success’, ‘borderline’ or ‘failure’. Intra- and inter-observer variation for the photographic image was assessed. Sensitivity, specificity, positive and negative predictive values were calculated for the photographic image compared to the ACT score.

Results: There was perfect correlation between clinical assessment and photographic evaluation of both raters at both time-points in 38 (48%) feet. The raters demonstrated acceptable reliability with re-scoring photographs (rater 1, k = 0.55; rater 2, k = 0.88). Thirty percent (n = 71) of photographs were assessed as poor quality image or sub-optimal patient position. Sensitivity of outcome with photograph compared to ACT score was 83.3%-88.3% and specificity ranged from 57.9%-73.3%.

Conclusion: Digital photography may help to confirm, but not exclude, success of clubfoot treatment. Future work to establish photographic parameters as an adjunct to assessing treatment outcomes, and guidance on a standardised protocol for photographs, may be beneficial in the follow up of children who have treated clubfoot in isolated communities or lower resourced settings.

m-Health for Burn Injury Consultations in a Low-Resource Setting: An Acceptability Study Among Health Care Providers

Introduction:The rapid adoption of smartphones, especially in low- and middle-income countries, has opened up novel ways to deliver health care, including diagnosis and management of burns. This study was conducted to measure acceptability and to identify factors that influence health care provider’s attitudes toward m-health technology for emergency care of burn patients.

Methods:An extended version of the technology acceptance model (TAM) was used to assess the acceptability toward using m-health for burns. A questionnaire was distributed to health professionals at four hospitals in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania. The questionnaire was based on several validated instruments and has previously been adopted for the sub-Saharan context. It measured constructs, including acceptability, usefulness, ease of use, social influences, and voluntariness. Univariate analysis was used to test our proposed hypotheses, and structural equation modeling was used to test the extended version of TAM.

Results:In our proposed test-model based on TAM, we found a significant relationship between compatibility—usefulness and usefulness—attitudes. The univariate analysis further revealed some differences between subgroups. Almost all health professionals in our sample already use smartphones for work purposes and were positive about using smartphones for burn consultations. Despite participants perceiving the application to be easy to use, they suggested that training and ongoing support should be available. Barriers mentioned include access to wireless internet and access to hospital-provided smartphones.