“Telemedicine”​ Chiang Mai, changing the way health services are accessed, reaching remote areas…

“Chiang Mai” is a popular tourist destination well-known by both Thais and foreigners, with a complex environment ranging from the city’s vibrant areas to the distant mountain peaks, providing a diverse experience for visitors. However, for the residents, these factors can become major obstacles to accessing essential public services, especially in the healthcare system, which directly affects people’s lives. The distance and difficulty in traveling between areas have become a significant problem for medical care. Therefore, it is crucial to develop a telemedicine system to improve the quality of life in this area. The Coverage had the opportunity to speak with Associate Professor Dr. Krit Kwanngeun, the Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, Chiang Mai University, about the future of the healthcare system in Chiang Mai and the potential direction that telemedicine could bring.

Telemedicine via 5G Infrastructure

Dr. Krit began to explain that the Telemedicine project that is about to happen in Chiang Mai province is a collaboration between the Faculty of Medicine, Chiang Mai University, and is supported by the Digital Economy and Society Development Fund, the National Digital Economy and Society Commission, the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society, and the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission.

Under this support, there will be two large-scale projects: the establishment of a Telemedicine service center to expand public access to medical services, and the pioneering project of developing a 5G technology district prototype to provide services to the public (5G District) in Chiang Mai province, or the 5G Smart Health project.

This vice dean explained that 5G technology is increasingly being used in the medical field, and this ongoing project will help to fulfill the country’s strategy of using 5G technology to develop the national healthcare system. If successful, it could serve as an example for Telemedicine platform development in other provinces and regions.

The driving force behind this project is undoubtedly the current situation in Chiang Mai and the northern region as a whole, which is characterized by high mountains, making travel difficult and time-consuming even over relatively short distances. At the same time, when one patient cannot travel alone, family members may need to accompany them.

Merge 2 main players ‘MOPH – Medical School’

This deputy dean explained the details, giving an example of the area of Mae Chaem, which is approximately 3 hours away from Chiang Mai city. Normally, patients in the area would go to receive treatment at Maharaj Nakorn Chiang Mai Hospital, which is a tertiary hospital under MOPH, (Ministry of Public Health). However, if a patient’s case requires consultation with a higher-level hospital, such as Nakhon Ping Hospital, a central hospital under MOPH, or Maharaj Nakorn Chiang Mai Hospital (Suan Dok Hospital), a faculty hospital under Chiang Mai University, the patient may have to travel to the city. However, if telemedicine systems are available, patients may not need to spend time traveling.

“The telemedicine that we are developing not only provides remote patient care but also enables doctors to consult with each other remotely. Because these hospitals can all link up via telemedicine, or in the same way, if a specialist doctor in that field of the province is on a mission to go elsewhere, the hospital can also telemedicine with that doctor, no matter where they are.”

In addition, the system can also be used in the medication ordering process, for example, if a patient at Mae Chaem Hospital needs medication that is not available at the hospital, it may be possible to receive it from Maharaj Nakorn Chiang Mai Hospital instead, with the hospital arranging for the patient to receive it immediately via mail.

Regarding the system that will be used to communicate between patients and doctors, or between doctors themselves, Dr. Krit explains that it will be in the form of a chat program, similar to the Line application, but will be a new application being developed by the Faculty of Medicine, Chiang Mai University. Patients will be able to video call doctors from home without having to travel to the hospital, or use it to schedule appointments, as well as to follow up on treatment results.

Another part is the use of the benefits of the 5G network, with the development of augmented reality technology with smart ambulances, allowing emergency teams that arrive at the scene to send images of the situation to the emergency room team in the hospital, in order to provide initial treatment advice.

“For example, in the event of an accident, the ambulance that goes out will have glasses connected to the 5G signal to do telemedicine to the emergency room. This means that the team that goes out to see the patient in that location can be seen by the emergency room team as well. At the same time, it allows us to make a decision in that moment about which hospital is ready to accept the patient, rather than the patient having to run to the emergency room first before knowing whether the hospital is ready or not.”

Factor of success from physician relationships

Dr. Krit views that one of the standout factors of success in Chiang Mai and an important part of the development of telemedicine systems is the “relationship” between each hospital’s doctor and medical team, whether in a district hospital, provincial hospital or community hospital, all have a good relationship with each other. This has made various collaborations progress rapidly.

At the same time, most hospital systems have changed to digital systems, which will allow the telemedicine system under development to be integrated immediately, similar to the back-end data system that most hospitals in the province are already connected to. This allows the transition to telemedicine to happen quickly.

“At this point, our personnel are ready, the data is connected, and the readiness of the 5G signal is also available in 15 hospitals. We are still waiting for the development of telemedicine software, which is expected to be completed in the next 3-4 months. We think we can start testing the system in June at the university hospital first, and then expand testing to the first 15 districts in July,” said the vice dean.

However, in terms of developing a telemedicine system that needs to be interconnected in every hospital, it is essential that it is flexible and relies on the expertise of professional software developers who have successfully implemented similar systems.