Int J Telemed Appl. 2021 May 3;2021:6644648. doi: 10.1155/2021/6644648. eCollection 2021.
We surveyed three well-established store-and-forward telemedicine networks to identify any changes during the first half of 2020, which might have been due to the effect of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic on their telemedicine operations. The three networks all used the Collegium Telemedicus system. Various quantitative performance indicators, which included the numbers of referrals and the case-mix, were compared with their values in previous years. Two of the three networks surveyed (A and B) provided telemedicine services for any type of medical or surgical case, while the third (network C) handled only pediatric radiology cases. All networks operated in Africa, but networks A and C also provided services in other resource-constrained regions. Two of the networks (networks B and C) used local staff to submit referrals, while network A relied mainly on its expatriate staff. During the first half of 2020, the numbers of referrals received on network B increased substantially, while in contrast, the numbers of referrals on network A declined. All three networks had relatively stable referral rates during 2018 and 2019. All three networks delivered a service that was rated highly by the referrers. One network operated at relatively high efficiency compared to the other two, although it is not known if this is sustainable. The networks which were more reliant on local referrers saw little reduction-or even an increase-in submitted cases, while the network that had the most dependence on international staff saw a big fall in submitted cases. This was probably due to the effect of international travel restrictions on the deployment of its staff. We conclude that organizations wanting to build or expand their telemedicine services should consider deliberately empowering local providers as their referrers.