How the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the importance of accessible healthcare

GE Healthcare’s Imaging Sales Director and Strategic Accounts & Solutions Director shares why they believe it is important for healthcare to be accessible to all, and explains how Chulabhorn hospital’s mobile ‘Deployable CT systems’ will help to serve that purpose.

As a result of COVID-19, healthcare systems all over the world were greatly disrupted, as medical providers scrambled to change their way of working in order to overcome the various challenges brought on by the pandemic.

The situation in Thailand was no different. Healthcare providers, like Chulabhorn Hospital, had to adapt quickly to cope with the pandemic, and in particular, ensure the safety of both their staff and patients alike.

With COVID-19 proving to be particularly infectious, it was especially important for healthcare providers to identify patients who were infected with the virus, in order to quarantine them and provide them with the required treatment.

Unfortunately, those based in rural areas often did not have easy access to the necessary healthcare support. Often times, this meant that they had to travel some distance to for a diagnosis or treatment, which greatly increased the risk of them infecting others.

GE Healthcare’s Imaging Sales Director for Thailand, Teerawan Srisuk, elaborated: “In rural areas, there is usually a limitation on the equipment available, and the healthcare technology is also generally not that advanced.

“So, if there is a need for a patient in those areas to use more advanced diagnostics, like a CT scanner, they will have to travel to hospitals outside their province, which isn’t easy to get to. Then came the pandemic, which made it even harder for them to travel to these medical facilities.”

To help improve the accessibility to healthcare in Thailand, Chulabhorn Hospital spearheaded a new ‘Deployable CT Systems for Epidemic Crisis and Battlefields’ project, which aims to bring advanced CT scanning services to where it is required, including to rural areas.

The mobile Deployable CT system utilises GE Healthcare’s ‘Revolution Maxima’ CT scanner, which comes with artificial intelligence (AI) based auto positioning technology, thus eliminating the need for physical contact with the patients.

The Strategic Accounts & Solutions Director for GE Healthcare in Thailand, Witvala Rattanaphakkhakun, is confident that Chulabhorn Hospital’s Deployable CT Systems will play a key role in helping to manage the spread of infectious viruses like COVID-19.

“Having this service at areas where the pandemic is will clearly help, as it limiting the amount of travelling a patient needs to do,” explained Witvala. “This is especially important if you want to control the pandemic in a certain area. If you send a patient out of that area for treatment, however, you run the risk of causing the virus to spread.

“So this takes a proactive approach to control the spread of the disease, and addresses the healthcare needs of those in the rural areas. So overall, it can be a huge benefit to the country.”

Teerawan explained that the Revolution Maxima’s cloud-based technology allows for Chulabhorn Hospital’s healthcare staff to access the scans remotely, as the images will be uploaded to the cloud once it has been taken.

She added: “There is also no need for an engineer to be on-site, as our technical team is able to service or fix any issues with the machine remotely. This saves a lot of time spent on travelling, and minimises the disruption to the hospital’s work.”

But while the mobile Deployable CT systems, which is expected to launch early next year, was designed with the COVID-19 pandemic in mind, Witvala insists that it can be used in various situations, and could be the long-term solution to increasing accessibility to quality healthcare in rural areas.

“It looks like COVID-19 is here to stay for a while longer, so this mobile Deployable CT systems will hopefully be able to help the rural areas manage the pandemic better,” said Witvala.

“But even once the pandemic is over, it can still be used, as it is not designed solely for COVID-19. It can be used as a regular CT scanner, which is something that is not always available in certain areas of the country.

“The mobility of the system also means that it can be deployed during times of disaster or war, or basically in any situation where you need health services.

“So yes, I do think this is potentially the solution to solving the healthcare accessibility issues in certain parts of the country, and if the pilot project goes well, we’d be looking at having more of such units.”