Armenian Association of Telemedicine (AATM) has successfully completed its pilot telemedicine project, funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) within the framework of Primary Health Care Reform (PHCR) project, titled “Capacity building of the Armenian Association of Telemedicine to result in improved primary health care services in Armenia”.
The project, which officially commenced on March 1, 2010 after a contract had been signed between the AATM and USAID-PHCR, aimed to contribute to further improvement of the quality of health care system in Armenia through development of a progressive medical association in Armenia, as well as introducing new technologies and expanding professional networks within Armenia and abroad. The project consisted of four major segments: capacity building and expansion of the Association; research on the role of Telemedicine and eHealth in improving quality, accessibility and cost-effectiveness of health care system in Armenia; demonstrational telemedicine model system; evaluation and dissemination of the outcomes, including public awareness campaign.
A proof of successful realization of the first major segment of the project is the growth of AATM membership reaching currently 70, increased availability of information about AATM, its vision, activities and plans, as well as about current trends in development of healthcare and ICT among health professionals and medical associations, medical teaching institutions and health care providers. This contributed to reactivation of other professional Associations, created a background for closer cooperation and learning among medical and non-medical professionals and their organizations. During these three months, through multiple encounters, meetings, participations in local and international forums within and out of the framework of the work plan, the Association have enhanced and refined its role, made its voice heard in many sectors in Armenia and abroad. The AATM team has done their best to make AATM serve as an ultimate bridge to bring under one umbrella all stakeholders of the newly emerging field of adjacent specialties – among them ministries, state structures, governmental and non-governmental organizations, medical and non-medical businesses, professional associations and societies, doctors, nurses, all those who care about, organize and implement the development of healthcare in Armenia.
The most important part of the project was the establishment of a fully functional model of telemedicine network consisting of two PC-based stations (the “referral station” at the Jrashen Ambulatory in Lori marz, and the “consult station” at AATM’s central office in downtown Yerevan), equipped with video-conferencing devices and commercially available medical peripherals, and connected via broadband internet. The set of telemedicine peripherals used included: a vital sign monitor capable of detecting and transmitting in real time five parameters (blood pressure, heart rate, ECG, oxygen saturation of blood, and body temperature), a digital stethoscope recording and transmitting patient’s heart and lung sounds, and a digital examination camera. As an electronic patient documentation system (a database where all patients’ information was securely stored and made available for authorizes access by their managing physicians and specialists) we used an interface created on a basis of the Microsoft SharePointTM. Throughout the 8 weeks that the system was operational, overall 16 connection sessions were organized (on two days per each week), delivering a total of 93 teleconsultation (mean 5.81 per connection session) to 76 patients (mean 4.75 patient per connection session). Only 11 out of 76 (14%) patients were ultimately referred to a specialist for in-person consultation.
During the period of operation of the pilot telemedicine system and upon completion, systematic assessment was conducted evaluating project’s feasibility and impact on primary health care. The system was shown to reduce by more than 70% patients’ visits to remote specialists, allowing timely diagnosis, improving treatment outcomes, increasing patients’ satisfaction, ensuring primary care personnel’s professional growth, reducing health care costs, and contributing to overall development of the involved rural community.
The AATM team express their gratefulness to the USAID leadership and the staff of PHCR project; the Ministry of Health of Republic of Armenia; Union of Information Technology Enterprises (UITE) of Armenia (professional association of Armenian ICT industry); Armenian Medical Association (ArMA); Microsoft-Armenia; Sourcio (IT company with eHealth experience); Cornet (ISP company); GNC Alfa (leading fiber-optic provider); and Symotec (telemedicine R&D company), as well as to the doctors at the remote site and consultants, to our patients, to all those who did not remain impartial and contributed to the realization of the Project.