Stuck in the waiting room

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A long-touted health-care revolution may at last be about to arrive

Oct 11th 2014 | ROME | From the print edition

THE idea of telemedicine—health care provided using telecommunications equipment—has a lengthy history. Radio News, an American magazine, devoted its cover to a patient at home consulting a doctor in his surgery via a television link as long ago as 1924. When NASA began monitoring astronauts in space in the 1960s, fantasy became reality. It has been touted as health care’s future ever since.

But even smartphones and tablets have failed to usher in the telemedicine revolution: most health care still happens face to face. Now, enthusiasts think the wait is nearly over. Governments have been slow to embrace an approach that could improve coverage and outcomes, as well as saving money. But they are under increasing pressure from ageing populations and a surge in chronic diseases, just as public budgets are being squeezed.

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Ebola

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Searching for a new way to attack Ebola, companies and academic researchers are now racing to develop faster and easier tests for determining whether someone has the disease.

Such tests might require only a few drops of blood rather than a test tube of it, and provide the answer on the spot, without having to send the sample to a laboratory.

The tests could be essential in West Africa, where it can take days for a sample to travel to one of the relatively few testing laboratories, leaving those suspected of having the disease in dangerous limbo.

Rapid tests might also be used to screen travelers at airports, providing a more definitive answer than taking their temperatures.

“There’s a great deal of interest in a technology that can screen large numbers of people from a finger prick in only a few minutes,” said Cary Gunn, chief executive of Genalyte, a company in San Diego that says its approach can do just that. “You can imagine testing an entire planeload of passengers and screening through them cost-effectively.” Read more