Technology provides a solution: teleconsultation, which minimizes the need for travel and face-to-face contact, thus protecting both the patients and health professionals from exposure to health risks.
Among the doctors now engaged in teleconsultation with her patients is Dr Corazon Mata, who handles the obstetrics and gynecology hotline for the Telekonsulta Service of the Northern Mindanao Medical Center (NMMC). For the first time in her 30-year practice, Dr. Mata is attending to patients remotely, fielding queries from ob-gyn patients all over Region 10, which covers the provinces of Misamis Oriental, Misamis Occidental, Bukidnon, Camiguin and Lanao del Norte.
In Davao City, Davao Central 911 has also set up a call center that facilitates over-the-phone consultations for people who cannot go to the hospital. Patients can directly speak with an emergency medical technician or on-call doctors for free, within the safety of their own homes.
The Center for Mental Health and Psychosocial Development’s HOFFEN Clinic of Adventist Hospital Davao also launched HOPE Line to offer free psychological first aid via phone calls from PUIs or PUMs and their families through a special hotline.
To support teleconsultation efforts in Mindanao, PLDT wireless arm Smart Communications, Inc. (Smart) has extended communications support to the NMMC, Davao Central 911 and HOPE Line.
Smart has provided NMMC with LTE phones capable of unlimited texts and calls to all networks and data connection. Each phone was assigned to doctors handling a specific field of specialization, such as pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, surgery or internal medicine.
Smart also provided load and call conferencing service support for Davao Central 911, as well as a special number for HOPE Line’s telepsychology services – 0951-815-HOPE (4673).
‘Do your part’
Dr. Vernna Dee Marie Guille-Familiar from the Emergency Medicine Department of Southern Philippines Medical Center and a volunteer doctor of 911 Telemedicine believes that it is best for people to stay at home. “The virus does not move. People do. The spread of the infection depends on the people’s ability to understand that staying at home will help. Doctors, nurses, health care workers — we are but your last line of defense in the fight against COVID. We continue to work for you, despite the risks of getting infected. So, do your share, stay at home. It helps us a lot,” she said.
Amid the Covid-19 health crisis, people may also experience anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues. At present, the clinic’s HOPE Line accommodates 3 to 4 phone-in patients per day.
Despite limitations, doctors are finding ways to cope. Dr. Austria, a pediatrician, has been working more and more with the parents during teleconsultation. “[Parents have to] listen to the child’s breathing, feel their skin or pulse, touch the tummy, and describe what [they] find,” he said, adding that this is not the ideal way of examination, so doctors should also be cautious in using information drawn from a teleconsultation to diagnose a patient’s condition.
With the Covid-19 pandemic far from over, interventions such as teleconsultation are here to stay as part of the “new normal”. As access to the internet and data-capable phones increase, huge improvements in teleconsultation results and lowered risk of misdiagnosis are also seen.