Teleconsulting and innovative channels help strengthen patient-doctor connection during the pandemic

Published November 24, 2021, 4:54 PM

by Enzo Luna

Kumusta Dok

In the last year and a half, the healthcare industry, like most others, has turned to creative channels to maintain communication lines open with patients in order to give them medical attention and care. If we may say so, the pandemic’s benefit to us has been that it has taught us how to adapt technology and use it to enrich our daily lives and make us feel better throughout this health crisis.

This was one of the highlights of the “Kumusta Dok: Healthcare Beyond COVID-19” webinar, which included representatives from the Private Hospitals Association of the Philippines (PHAPI), the Philippine Alliance for Patient Organization (PAPO), St. Luke’s Medical Center, and the University of Santo Tomas.

Kumusta Dok is an initiative that aims to help patients reconnect with their doctors during the transition to the new normal. It raises awareness about the risk factors, signs, and symptoms of the leading causes of death among Filipinos. Amidst the pandemic, the top causes of death among Filipinos remain to be heart diseases, cancer, stroke, diabetes, pneumonia and hypertension.

The program also provides patients with tips and updates on the channels available to them to strengthen their partnership with doctors throughout their health-seeking journey. It highlights the efforts made by healthcare facilities to ensure the safety of patients and healthcare staff while providing appropriate care.

“Our doctors and facilities also had to adapt to the unprecedented situation that the pandemic threw everyone into and find new ways in order for them to continue serving our patients,” PHAPI Corporate Secretary Richard Lirio said.

Lirio noted that reports have been coming out about the growing number of Filipino doctors and patients adopting telemedicine, as well as the likelihood of the technology remaining in demand even after the COVID-19 pandemic. There were challenges, according to Dr. Patrick Moral, MD, Associate Professor, Department of Medical Ethics, UST Faculty of Medicine & Surgery.

“When you start calling your doctors on your mobile phone, you’re already on telemedicine. That is telemedicine in action. Telemedicine has improved many things, but performing physical exams remains a challenge. When we examine patients via telemedicine, we have limitations. For example, we cannot examine them physically, but one advantage of teleconsulting is that we can now see their surroundings and who they live with. We can see if the people around them have a cough or are ill. In general, the most significant challenge is the high cost of telemedicine. However, in times of high demand, we hope that the cost will eventually become affordable in the future,” explained Dr. Moral during the Q&A portion of the webinar.

Kumusta Dok

Recently, the public has noticed a relaxation of restrictions, a decrease in the number of COVID-19 cases, and the efforts of healthcare facilities to implement a slew of safety measures, all of which contribute to building Filipinos’ confidence in returning to healthcare facilities for consultation.

These include, according to Lirio, creating separate waiting areas for non-COVID-19 patients, requiring COVID-19 screening and completion of a declaration form prior to entering hospitals, and frequently sanitizing high-contact areas such as door handles, railings, and benches.

Patients are also encouraged to make an appointment with their doctors before going to the hospital or clinic in order to avoid overcrowding and maintain physical distance.

“With the safety measures healthcare professionals have been putting in place, immediate and regular consultations are possible even though COVID-19 is still around,” Lirio said. “The best time to see their doctor is now.”

The Kumusta Dok initiative was prompted by the staggering numbers of deaths from non-communicable diseases in the country. Based on a report by the Philippine Statistics Authority, in 2020 alone, 100,000 Filipinos died from heart disease, over 60,000 from cancer, almost 40,000 from diabetes, roughly around 35,000 from pneumonia, and 25,000 from hypertension.

“There have been far fewer COVID-19 fatalities than any of these non-communicable diseases, such as diabetes, cancer, hypertension, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), but the fear of getting COVID-19 has prevented or discouraged many patients suffering from other serious ailments from getting the medical attention and care they need on a timely manner,” PAPO representative Leyden Florido said.

Overall, 41% of adults have avoided medical care during the pandemic because of concerns about COVID-19; 12% avoided urgent/emergency care and 31.5% avoided routine care.

“We need to get people back to taking charge of their health, especially those with these serious non-communicable diseases before they get worse,” Florido noted, “prevention is always better than cure. The earlier they consult and seek medical attention, the better for everyone. This is especially true during the pandemic. Timely management of medical conditions will lessen the potential for these diseases to worsen to the point of becoming an emergency. This is one way of alleviating our emergency services that attend to both COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 patients.”