Telemedicine is the big health care game changer to emerge from the coronavirus pandemic, say experts

·4-min read

Telemedicine, in which a doctor’s appointment happens over phone or video, could be the health care game changer to emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic. But a perfect marriage with offline services is needed to make the system work efficiently, say experts in the health care industry.

“Due to Covid-19, people have noticed that a lot of things could be done online. But health care is unique. There is still a large portion of services needed to be done offline,” said Jeff Chen, chief innovation officer of Fullerton Healthcare Corporation.

“When we talk about online health care, we never talk about purely online health care. We are talking about how to leverage online services to make the whole health care service better.”

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Fullerton is an online platform founded nine years ago in Singapore that provides health care facilities across nine markets in Asia-Pacific.

Chen was speaking in a webinar on a new blueprint for health care systems, co-presented by the South China Morning Post and the Milken Institute Asia Centre on July 30.

When there is more advanced hardware, the proportion of online services will increase, said Chen. Rearranging a consultation after seeing a doctor in person, seeking a second opinion, and getting referrals are all functions that can be efficiently delivered through telemedicine, he said.

In May, his company launched a free Artificial Intelligence (AI)-enabled Covid-19 symptom checker and an in-app chat function that allows users to interact with Fullerton’s team members about their coronavirus-related concerns. The services were launched in Singapore, the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia.

In the future, health care systems are expected to adjust the way they evaluate and care for patients, increasingly using methods that do not rely on in-person encounters. Digital health can play a role in providing the care patients need while minimising the transmission risk of infectious diseases like Covid-19, according to panellists on the webinar.

“Digital health is a good alternative during challenging times when a physical encounter is difficult or hazardous,” said Dr Donald Li Kwok-tung, president of the World Organisation of Family Doctors, also a senior adviser to Ping An Good Doctor, a mainland Chinese online health care platform.

Li said Ping An Good Doctor has been shifting from a family doctor concept to promoting prevention, early diagnosis, and continuous long-term care.

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“But we need back-up services with clinics. Online and offline cooperation is very important,” he said.

The importance of the online platform is that they are able to “ensure all patients get access to health care, including those not related to Covid-19 cases”, said Roberta Lipson, the chief executive of New Frontier Health, which owns United Family Healthcare (UFH), a private operator in China worth US$1.4 billion.

Her company has extended online services to include free consultations during the Covid 19 pandemic.

With data searches carried out by AI, consumers and patients can make better decisions about their health and the care they receive, and the costs will be brought down, said Grace Park, co-founder of DocDoc, a Singapore-based virtual network of physicians and hospitals helping patients to find medical care in Asia.

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