The advent of the Covid-19 pandemic definitely overwhelmed the country’s health-care system with the deluge of patients suffering from Covid-19 confined at many hospitals and other medical facilities. However, it also forced those with other ailments to take a back seat, particularly in terms of face-to-face consultation with their doctors at hospitals or even clinics, for fear of contracting the disease.
Medical practitioners had to pivot, to think of strategies that will allow them to diagnose their patients without exposing them to health risks and the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
Information and communications technology (ICT), fortunately, came to the rescue, together with the Internet, that brought about the concept of “telemedicine.”
Telemedicine closes several gaps
Telemedicine is defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as “the delivery of health-care services, where distance is a critical factor, by all health-care professionals using information and communications technologies for the exchange of valid information for diagnosis, treatment and prevention of disease and injuries, research and evaluation, and for the continuing education of health-care providers, all in the interests of advancing the health of individuals and their communities.”
Simply put, it is about doctor-patient communication for purposes of medical consultation during extraordinary times or in cases where distance hinders or prevents them from doing so, using a digital device like the computer to achieve the objective.
Particularly in this pandemic, many people were afraid to go to hospitals to seek consultation with their doctors for fear of the virus. Another concern is whether they would get the attention they need since the priority is treatment of Covid-19 patients.
There are other factors that may have contributed to the rise in the use of telemedicine in the country. For one, those who cannot go to the doctor for many reasons—work schedule, home concerns, commute/traffic, where transportation expense is a challenge, and many others—would benefit under a telemedicine setup.
As with any other beneficial practice, however, there are challenges. There is still talk of whether the dispensed medical advice is of quality or not, meaning, is it enough to just look at the computer screen to determine if indeed there is something wrong in a patient? Or, if diagnosis given is correct and appropriate. What if the patient was unable to fully disclose all the needed information to help guide the doctor to give the best medical advice?
A bigger role for health care
For Medgate Philippines, which has been operating in the Philippines since 2016 and is part of Medgate, a pioneer in the telemedicine industry since 1998, believes that by increasing and improving access to high-quality medical care, telemedicine will help shape the future of overall healthcare in the Philippines and even globally.
“The past year and a half has challenged our health-care systems in unimaginable ways, while also changing the way many Filipino patients get treated,” shares Medgate Philippines President Stavros Athanasiou. “Throughout all that, telehealth services have proven to be a prime complement to traditional health care, acting as another avenue for treatment. Medgate is committed to providing those services to even more Filipinos as we continue to navigate the current health crisis.”
Just last year, he said they saw a 170-percent jump in the usage of their services, which led to a total patient base of 1.5 million. In the conduct of these consultations, Medgate uses a medical co-management approach where doctors with multiple specializations consult with a single case. This means that an Internist may also treat a Pediatric case in order to get a better background of and provide a solution to a patient’s condition, which may lead to high treatment rate.
This success is just the first step, Athanasiou said, as the company sees demand for its innovation increasing further in the near future. The company will continue to innovate and grow its telemedicine core business as new technologies emerge. The advent of 5G broadband, he adds, should make for an immersive high resolution video experience, further enhancing the experience of patients. Advances in wearables, especially those with the ability to capture body temperature, blood pressure, and even blood sugar will usher in a new wave of customers. “The demand is there,” adds Athanasiou. “It’s now a matter of making sure that the proper services and infrastructures are in place to sustain the usage and provide telemedicine to more patients.”
Collaborations to improve telemedicine access
Medgate Philippines also has ongoing tie-ups with some of the country’s leading HMO and health insurance companies including Intellicare and Generali. Through these partnerships, members can conveniently consult with a doctor on the Medgate platform 24/7 even having the option to have their prescribed medicines delivered. These engagements are in line with Medgate’s goal to provide the care that comforts as many Filipinos as possible.
“The work we do alongside our partners is important. This is the perfect time for us to work together towards furthering health-care innovation,” said Medgate Philippines Country Manager, Ronald Estrella. “Medgate continues to further differentiate its telemedicine service from the competition. The company will be expanding its partnerships, growing its base of health-care professionals, and will ensure multiple touchpoints for easier access for patients—be it over the phone, social media, web site, or our upcoming mobile app.”