Low-cost eHealth netbook application was deemed effective in identifying new cases of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) and establishing appropriate referrals in underserved communities in Lebanon, showed a new study led by members of the American University of Beirut – Faculty of Health of Sciences, Graduate Public Health Program and other scholars from local, regional, and international institutions, including the Lebanese American University, Lebanon; Mohammed Bin Rashid University of Medicine and Health Sciences, UAE; University of Toronto and York University, Canada.
NCDs are Lebanon’s main public health concern contributing to 45 percent and 38.7 percent of premature deaths in men and women, respectively, and driving a substantial increase in the total healthcare costs and in the per capita expenditure on health. Underprivileged populations residing in rural and refugee settings are at greater risks of developing diseases due to poor screening and low early detection rates.
The study focuses on “eHealth as a facilitator of equitable access to primary healthcare: the case of caring for non-communicable diseases in rural and refugee settings in Lebanon”, and was recently published in The International Journal of Public Health. The paper aims to assess the effect of selected low-cost eHealth tools on diabetes/hypertension detection and referrals rates in rural settings and refugee camps in Lebanon and explore the barriers to showing-up to scheduled appointments at Primary Healthcare Centers (PHCCs). Community screening employing the netbook application revealed higher diabetes and hypertension detection rates than the previously reported estimates in Lebanon.
The low-cost eHealth strategies (online referrals and scheduling) facilitated equal access to NCDs services in PHCCs and provided newly identified and pre-diagnosed cases having no regular provider with the opportunity to benefit from the continued healthcare provision in PHCCs. Furthermore, this study demonstrates that showing-up to scheduled appointments is multifactorial, with not knowing the reason of referral as an intrinsic barrier to show-up and being employed as an external barrier. This study also represents a key pilot test assessing the relevance of employing eHealth strategies in the context of Lebanon before the actual implementation of the national eHealth policy in Lebanon. The information generated provides foundation for future research, as well as important evidence informing key decision makers. The findings of this study mobilize the Ministry Of Public Health in Lebanon and United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) to invest in the integration of eHealth technology in other PHC centers to enhance equity at the national level and to widen the compass of health services coverage.