HOTEL VILA Monte in Moncarapacho was the setting for a seminar organised by the Algarve regional health authority last week, entitled ‘Health screening in the Algarve and Andalucia: new technologies for inter-regional communication’.
Health professionals from the Algarve and Andalucia got together for a working meeting, in order to discuss strategy and share clinical experiences relating to the various screening programmes currently being operated in the two regions. The screening projects form part of the Telemedicine Development Programme of the Algarve-Andalucia (INTERREG III A, an EU funded programme).
The programmes developed by Administração Regional de Saúde do Algarve (ARS Algarve) and the Servicio Andaluz de Salud encompass the populations of Albufeira, Faro, Lagos, Olhão, Portimão, Tavira, Vila Real de Santo António, among others, as well as the provinces of Huelva and Seville. Various early detection pilot projects have been developed, including screening for breast cancer, colorectal cancer and diabetic retinopathy.
Speaking to The Resident’s Caroline Cunha, Dr. António Pina, the ARS Algarve professional in charge of the Telemedicine project, explained that this is the first time the clinical professionals from the two regions have had the chance to talk to each other about their respective programmes. “Meetings like this are very important – we must consistently exchange information and experiences. We want to know about the strengths of the Spanish programmes and they about ours,” he said.
The data obtained from these Algarvean-Andalucian projects were presented to a packed room of medical professionals linked to the areas, in an exchange of practices, results and ideas, which also involved discussions about the possibility of improving the shared clinics through the use of technology.
Pina explained: “The Telemedicine programme aims to make the consultation process quicker and more efficient through the use of information technology, which is already underway in the Algarve.”
Currently, the cardiology unit at Faro Hospital is able to support two Centros de Saúde (Vila Real de Santo António and Albufeira) in cardiac emergencies. “If someone arrives at one of these health centres suspected to be suffering from a heart attack, an ECG is taken and the data sent to Faro Hospital via a telemetric system. The doctor at the cardiology unit immediately advises what therapy the patient requires. Our aim is to extend this support to other health centres in the region,” he said.
A second development in terms of new technology is video conferencing. All health centres in the Algarve now have the necessary equipment to be linked to Faro Hospital’s internal medicine and paediatric departments, which can offer support when family doctors require a second opinion with regard to diagnosis and treatment plans. Doctors can confer with specialists at agreed times each day.
“It is very exciting,” he said. “Two health centres began using this technology just two weeks ago and more will begin over the coming weeks and months. In addition, Barlavento Hospital will shortly be linked to the same system.” This means that more problems can be solved at Centros de Saúde without having to send patients to hospital and wait for consultations. “Training can also be given to medical staff using this technology,” explained the doctor.
Departments at Faro Hospital are also set up for video conferencing with hospitals in Coimbra and Évora, meaning that there is improved communication and wider sharing of expertise.
Another plan is to introduce tele-consultations. “It is widely thought that this practice can work well for specialisms such as dermatology,” stated Pina. A camera, video screen and phone are used, making it possible for patients to receive immediate advice and treatment without having to make additional appointments and travel for consultations. “It has already been implemented in the Alentejo and the results have been very positive, ” said Pina. “Another of our plans is to implement tele-radiology by the end of the year. This will make it possible for health centres and hospitals in the region to exchange x-ray images. This will mean that patients no longer have to be sent to the hospital just to show specialists their x-rays. It also avoids filing problems and is more environmentally friendly. This represents an important step forward,” the doctor said.
Finally, and most recently, an electronic programme is being implemented, known as ALERT-CARE, in regional hospitals and in the health centres of Castro Marim and Monchique. It permits the safe processing and storage of clinical information, books consultations and facilitates interaction between professionals in terms of results and data comparison. This means that hospitals can become paper-free environments with all patient records being easily accessible on the computer. A full presentation of this software, which is developed by Médicos Na Internet (MNI), was given at the seminar.
• Also read The Resident’s exclusive interview with Dr. Rui Lourenço, president of the Algarve regional health authority, on pages 6 and 7.