MANILA - Thanks to COVID-19 and the ongoing community lockdowns, teleconsultations or telemedicine have become popular with patients of all ages.
Formally known as Telehealth, this refers to remote consultation between doctors and patients using digital technologies. From the comforts of your home or office, or to avoid a visit to the hospital, you can set an appointment with your doctor using your smartphone or computer.
You can do this the traditional way, meaning call your doctor’s secretary and set it up, or use Apps and websites designed to help you find a doctor and manage your health encounter seamlessly like SeriousMd.com.
Patients were just beginning to become comfortable with accessing health services remotely, and before the pandemic, this meant getting their results online, or downloading copies to prevent another visit to the doctor’s clinic or hospital.
But with the community quarantines all around the country, patients were left with no choice but to go digital to manage their healthcare. Telemedicine is not the answer for everything that ails you though, and according to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are still medical services that cannot be replaced by telepresence.
“Teleconsultations are a useful approach for triaging patients and reducing unnecessary visits to emergency departments. Scheduled teleconsultations allow the evaluation, monitoring, and follow-up of outpatients who do not require face-to-face assessment,” according to a fact sheet issued by WHO together with the Pan American Health Organization.
“However, according to the technological infrastructure available, there might still be services that cannot be replaced by telepresence, so it is important to determine when telepresence is an option and when is not.”
Some hospitals have embraced telemedicine and offer detailed information on their websites. Others are silent but allow the practice by their affiliated doctors, and then there are some doctors who speak out against them, saying the patients are not getting their money’s worth.
They do not want to be identified, but our family has encountered both the yay and nay doctors to telemedicine. The Yay doctors say they are doing this mostly for their patients, especially the elderly ones who require monitoring. The Nay doctors say a consultation requires physical check-up and many things can fall into the cracks when you are only seeing your patient through a small digital screen.
Whether you have a Yay or Nay doctor, you always come first, so invest in your health with the right tools and the best possible telemedicine partner for now with these tips.
#1 Buy medical monitors that you need.
When I tried to set an appointment with a doctor, the first requirement was to pay his fee, and then I was told I have to be ready to share my blood pressure, pulse rate and body temperature when we meet. How could I have all that?
Turns out there is now a wide range of portable and affordable health monitors. Some as low as P500 to as high as P2500, and you can buy them online or in the nearest drugstore. In minutes you can have your blood pressure and pulse rate too!
With COVID-19, one of the scares is your blood oxygen dropping which raised the demand for Fingertip Pulse Oximeters, now retailing from P400 to P1800. Depending on your medical condition, you may want to invest in these health monitors and check yourself. It may save you a chat with your doctor or a visit to the hospital emergency room.
#2 Consider Prepaid cards.
When I paid a doctor last week, I was surprised to be charged P1,000. I expected the fee to be lower because of the limitations of telemedicine, but was informed by the secretary that they are following the guidelines of their association, or the pool of doctors from the same specialization.
I decided to check online to verify first but came across ads for prepaid health cards for telemedicine access. One sells for P2,500 for 4 consults for adults within a year, another for a low P720 for the same period with unlimited consults but a number of exclusions. Be a smart shopper and a wise saver by checking the best deals online before you set your next telemedicine appointment.
#3 List your questions and do not hesitate to ask everything else you want to know.
If you have a family doctor who is willing to teleconsult, and you do not want to explore other doctors that are part of the prepaid cards offers, that’s fine too. It’s usually better to speak with someone who knows your medical history. To get your money’s worth, prepare your questions and make sure to ask all of them.
During your consultation, if the doctor says something you did not understand, ask him or her to repeat and to explain. One thing I discovered is that doctors are more patient with questions during telemedicine, maybe their way of making up for the limitations or they have fewer patients and are not being rushed to see the next one.
#4 Help the doctor give a better and more informed diagnosis.
If you were seeing your doctor in person, the most preparation you had to do was bring test results if any. Because he or she can examine you, you can rest easier that the doctor would have “seen” the problem or caught your symptoms.
With telemedicine, you will have to do your part. My daughter developed an ear infection (I suspect the earphones) and I took close-up photos at different times of the day and sent them to the doctor ahead of our telemeeting. This helped him see the infection at its worst and by the time we had our consult, he saw that the infection was starting to go away.
#5 It’s okay to challenge your doctor’s recommendation.
Turn the consultation into a discussion. For my 15-year old, the doctor suggested taking antibiotics to treat the infection. I requested if we could apply a topical ointment first and monitor if it will improve in 24 to 48 hours. After all, from the photos, it appears we have seen the worst of it. She also did not develop fever. He agreed and things did get better in 24 hours.
I have nothing against antibiotics, but I am not comfortable popping a pill for everything that ails me or my family. A 24-48 hour window is usually a good time frame to see if things get better or worse.
Finally, it goes without saying that you need to have the gadgets and connection to make telemedicine happen.
Make sure you have strong Internet connection so that you can see and hear each other clearly. Be ready with a back-up plan – say another phone or another computer should you have problems on the first attempt to connect.
Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.