The vision and capabilities of enhanced telehealth and telemedicine as an ideal setup for Micronesia was the focus of the second day of the 23rd Micronesia Island Forum at the Fiesta Resort & Spa Saipan yesterday.
The forum’s Regional Health Committee touted the benefits of telehealth and telemedicine, citing the concept adopted in some Micronesian islands such as Pohnpei, Kosrae, and Guam to name a few.
RHC stressed that an enhanced telehealth and telemedicine capability is ideal for Micronesia, but some governmental policies interfere with telehealth capabilities, limiting its effects in other areas.
Telehealth is the process of using technological advancements in communication to deliver medical services.
Pohnpei Hospital, for example, coordinates with the Hokkaido Cancer Center in Japan for diagnostic information. Digitized images are sent to the center for diagnosis. Guam Community Health Center, on the other hand, works with the Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles.
Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. chief executive officer Esther Muña said in an interview that telehealth issues are concerning.
“It’s not the technology; we already have fiber optic [cables],” she said. “The issue is that we are trying to know that there are layers of policies that are preventing providers from providing those telehealth services.”
According to Muña, sustainability is an issues with telehealth.
“If we are going to provide these services here, there’s got to be money basically streaming to the provider and also to us, so that we can continue to provide it. The problem is there isn’t,” she said.
Recognizing these problems, Muña suggested that the forum pass a resolution that enhances telehealth capabilities in the Pacific.
“Endorse in principle as a matter of regional priority, and to invest jurisdiction resources to enhance and expand telehealth/telemedicine capabilities and capacities appropriate to the needs of each jurisdiction; and support periodic assessments and evaluations of such efforts in terms of cost, sustainable financing, pass policy and legislation which creates a telehealth-friendly environment, and ensure relevant provider/partner coordination,” Muña said in her presentation to the MIF.
‘We are dying slowly’
Commenting on Muña’s presentation, Palau President Tommy Remengesau said that those of Micronesian descent are “dying slowly,” due to dietary imbalances on the islands.
“…Dying [a] suicidal death that is self-inflicted,” he said. “It’s sad, but the population around the world are dying because of hunger and poverty, but here in our part of the world we are dying of overeating and bad diet and a lot of this has to do with imported food,” he added.
Muña’s presentation also identified the leading causes of deaths in Micronesia: cancer, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and lung disease.
“[Analyzing data], specifically in Palau, unemployed fishermen are in better health than those who are in the government [and] in the private sector who can afford to buy all these…food. It is certainly a lifestyle,” said Remengesau.
According to Muña’s presentation, in the CNMI alone, the body-mass index of youths since the year 2000 baseline has gone up in 2017. Cancer and cardiovascular-related deaths have also risen in the 30-69 age groups, while lung-related deaths have gone down significantly. Tobacco usage in both forms—chewing and smoking—have also reportedly decreased since the year 2000 baseline. Similar results have been noted for alcohol use among the youth.