ICT for Health in Cuba

Presently, the use of ICT within the public health space in Cuba is limited. Medical technology is relatively widespread and available at various hospitals and polyclinics around Havana. In rural areas, however, access to health technology such as CAT scans is much more challenging.

Data Analysis

Doctors write out medical records by hand at their local consultorios, which are then collected on a daily basis by runners who bring the papers to the polyclinics. At the polyclinics, the medical records are entered into a computer database and made available to local hospitals, where doctors who are certified in bio-statistics analyze the data for possible findings. Biostaticians use the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS) for data analysis due to its portable characteristics. Another commonly used software is EPIDAT, a free distribution-specialized sampling system created by a Cuban and a Spaniard in response to the need to fill the gaps in technology in Cuba.

With respect to data, the Cuban healthcare system is actually quite advanced. They collect a wide variety of indicators that go well beyond the indicators that are recommended or required by the World Health Organization. This information is used to provide better services and update medicines that are dispensed to various areas of the country. It is also used to help track the spread of infectious diseases and maintain a close watch on potential threats such as Zika.

Communication and Information

Some doctors and patients communicate via cell phones, but generally just to set up appointments. However, most appointments are made well in advance. Cubans are required to have annual doctors visits. Generally, employers require that they submit proof of this visit in order to keep their jobs. Additionally, women who are between the ages of 18 and 36 are required to come in for check-ups annually because they are classified as being “at risk,” a ranking system which is meant to provide them with adequate support during a time when they might become pregnant.

The Cuban government has played a major role in supporting the professional development of doctors by creating Infomed, an intranet medical information management platform. Through Infomed, users have access to virtual courses and medical publications, curated by an editorial committee of specialized doctors. Infomed works to promote Cuban medical publications as well as original articles from non-Cuban magazines. The platform also serves as a communication tool in which medical professionals can keep up to date with medical events happening inside and outside of Cuba. In fact, some doctors claim to only use the platform for the latter, finding the medical publications shared by Infomed to be “limited and restrictive.” Infomed’s search engine focuses on searching only medical publications, and only searches for content within the platform’s network, leaving out information that might be available in Google. The user can easily search by thematic or medical speciality, which makes it easier for scientists and doctors doing medical research to filter the information they need.

Photo by Chiara Bercu

Internet Access

Once doctors graduate from medical school, they are assigned an Infomed e-mail address, which allows them unlimited Internet access in government institutions. Since last year, ETECSA, together with the Ministry of Health, initiated the installation of Internet services to the homes of doctors and health care providers all over Cuba. However, routers can only provide 25 hours of Internet each month, with an average speed of 4kb/sec. Although not every doctor has home Internet access yet, Infomed already has the largest amount of home Internet users in Cuba, with around 111,000 users. Even with the government’s efforts to provide all doctors with these routers, this process will take a long time given the fact that ETECSA lacks the technological and financial capacity to install them all over the country.

Photo by Chiara Bercu

Written by: Chiara Bercu and Ana Carolina Diaz Edited by: Laura Lehman