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The role of telehealth in enhancing access to healthcare services in an under-resourced setting: A case of Mantunzeleni in Eastern Cape Province
The delivery of healthcare services should be of a high standard for everyone. For people in the location of Mantunzeleni this is not the case as there are still challenges that they go through in order to gain access to sufficient healthcare services. The location consists of four villages and the other nine which surround the four, in total this makes thirteen villages that are served by one clinic. These villages are divided by forest, rivers and mountains, people have to cross these and walk long distances to get to the clinic. Gaining access to basic healthcare services in rural areas has never been easy, hence this study seeks to understand the role telehealth could play to help improve the situation. It has been reported in the literature that telehealth has potential to address some of the problems experienced by healthcare service providers located in the rural areas. Research questions were posed to address the problem of limited access to healthcare services of under-served communities in rural areas. The study adopted an interpretive approach to understand how the people using healthcare services in the setting attach meaning to their experiences of the healthcare service. The study therefore seeks to understand how telehealth could improve healthcare service delivery through the participants’ views, perceptions and experiences. The research strategy for this study is a single case study without attempting to generalise the findings. Qualitative data was gathered using unstructured interviews, observations and co-design methods. The current state of telehealth and challenges of healthcare services in rural under-served communities was established through a review of relevant literature. It was important to actively involve the respondents in the research process for them to feel a sense of ownership. Data was analysed using a thematic analysis. The findings revealed the challenges currently hampering the delivery of healthcare in the research setting include poor infrastructure, high cost, the shortage of medical professionals, travelling distance, time management and lack of communication about the services. It was also revealed the role telehealth could play a role to improve access to healthcare and the findings indicate that the nurses feel that extending the healthcare service to include alternative access methods to health information, education and expertise could lead to a sense of appreciation, knowledge gain, dealing with distance problems and improved referrals, cost saving to improve healthcare service delivery.
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