MANSEHRA -- Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) is taking steps to improve medical services in remote areas, lately with the opening of the province's first ever online treatment facility, E-Ilaj, in the town of Mansehra.
The new telehealth centre opened October 16 at the Basic Health Unit (BHU) Behali.
The pilot project, a collaboration between the KP Health Department and KP Information Technology Board (KPITB), aims to link patients in remote areas with specialist doctors in major urban hospitals via high speed internet.
"The introduction of E-Ilaj services for remote areas will ensure the provision of efficient, expert and timely health care, especially to women and children, near their doorstep," KP Health Minister Shahram Tarakai told Pakistan Forward.
The E-Ilaj centre offers online health care to patients with cardiac and skin problems, ear, nose and throat issues, and other diseases, he said. Services also cover maternal and child health.
"Five specialised doctors will offer services under one roof," Tarakai said according to local media. Doctors will be available from 9am to 2pm.
The E-Ilaj centre aims to ease the burden on urban hospitals, as residents of remote areas often travel to the city for health care, he said.
"Patients in remote areas will now [be able to] access professional health care at their door step," Tarakai told Pakistan Forward.
The KP government plans to expand the project to other remote areas of the province soon, he said.
"The government is committed to ensuring access to health care and has allocated a significant budget for the health sector," he said.
KPITB Managing Director Dr. Shahbaz Khan explained how the E-Ilaj system works.
Patients come to the telehealth centre, which is linked to a control room through high-speed internet. Specialist doctors examine the patients remotely and prescribe treatments.
Well trained staff are employed at each E-Ilaj centre to help connect patients with doctors in Islamabad, he told Pakistan Forward. The centre in Mansehra is expected to serve a population of about 27,000.
"Technological intervention in key sectors like health and education is the only way forward for improving service delivery," he said.
Two rooms have been allocated for the E-Ilaj initiative in BHU Behali, according to KPITB Deputy Director Asim Ishaq Khan. About 20 to 25 patients receive diagnosis and treatment from doctors in Islamabad daily.
"In the coming month, we have plans to extend the facility to four more BHUs in far-flung areas of the province," he told Pakistan Forward. "A main office will then be established in Peshawar, where a board of five doctors will review medical cases referred to them."
Dr. Touseef Uddin, a senior surgeon at District Headquarters Hospital Mardan, said he appreciates the government's innovative approach to improving access to quality health care.
"E-Ilaj is a valuable initiative for those who cannot travel to big cities for better medical facilities," he told Pakistan Forward. "Now they will be able to access an expert board of highly experienced doctors by simply visiting the BHU in their villages."
Wajid Ali, 27, was one of the first patients to benefit from the new initiative in Behali.
"I still find it hard to believe because I have been ill for a while and could not afford to visit a specialist," he told Pakistan Forward.
"A few days back, I [took advantage] of the [E-Ilaj] facility and couldn't believe that diagnosis and treatment have become so easy and within reach," Ali said.