You mean I don’t have to show up?

Published July 6, 2020, 11:40 AM

by Paola Navarette

Telemedicine holds the promise of delivering patient-centered care. And it may have other advantages

Illustration by Ariana Camille Maralit

Aside from reducing patient stress, the use of virtual visits climbs as a way of safely treating patients and containing the spread of infection at hospitals.

“Telemedicine will be our new normal,” says Dr. Gia Sison, an occupational medicine specialist. “It augments the delivery of primary health care most especially in our country, where the doctor to patient ratio is a challenge.” 

Remote care can bring services to rural locations, and studies show the care is not worse than in-person treatment. Many can have their ailments “seen” on a computer, tablet, or smartphone by a practitioner and have treatment prescribed as needed without them having to travel to a doctor’s office.  

It may also save your time, too. A lot of it. End to end, the travel and waiting time for a normal appointment can take several hours—often disrupting work or school. Only 17 percent of it —20 minutes on average—is spent seeing the doctor, according to a research led by the University of Pittsburgh physician Kristin Ray at the Harvard Medical School. 

While the notion of seeing a doctor via your computer or cellphone is hardly new, telemedicine has yet to take off widely in the Philippines. Now, clinics like MD+ Clinic and Diagnostic Center have begun to adapt and develop virtual services that can serve as their frontline for patients. 

“We now offer free online consultations because we understand that there are people with chronic illnesses or urgent symptoms that need to be addressed,” says medical director Dr. Therese Pangilinan-Ikeda. By using the phone or computer, patients will be able to get guidance from the clinic’s in-house general practitioners about whether they need to be seen. That way they can avoid crowded waiting rooms and potential infection.

Virtual care has its limits, of course, and many of the start-ups promoting their offerings may not be fully equipped to handle patients. Data privacy and security could also become a crucial concern. 

No doubt, there is no replacing face-to-face interaction between a doctor and a patient. But the Philippine Medical Association is encouraging patients to consult doctors first through telemedicine. It has also advised physicians on the new normal following the pandemic.

Dr. Benito Atienza, vice president of the association, saysdoctors must limit their patients to five daily, observe physical distancing, wear personal protective equipment, and change gowns after every other patient. Physicians’ clinics must not have air-conditioning or electric fans and windows and doors must be kept open, he says. Staff should also be limited to one to two persons, and at least a distance of three feet from the patient must also be maintained. 

Others are also readying their telemedicine offerings. For normal pregnancies, many obstetricians are now doing most prenatal check-ins with virtual visits. Dermatologists are diagnosing less threatening skin conditions by using cellphone cameras.

While there are challenges, telemedicine presents a promising and novel alternative in cases where the benefits of this physical interaction may be outweighed by the risks of disease or danger.