In the Covid-19, access to healthcare has become a worry for all. During these times, the only solution is allowing our digital healthcare

During these testing times, the only solution is allowing our healthcare to go digital

In the backdrop of Covid-19, access to healthcare has become a worry for all. Hospitals and clinics have become viral hotspots raising fear and alarm in people who have to think twice before visiting these places to seek medical help.

During these testing times, the only solution is allowing our healthcare to go digital.

Telemedicine is yet to be recognised by our people as the majority are unaware of its existence and capability to address medical problems remotely and without physical interaction. The coronavirus pandemic has put our healthcare system under great stress to meet the present needs and has pushed telemedicine in the hands of patients and healthcare providers as the primary response for medical care. Covid-19 might be taking over the headlines but patients are still getting sick from other diseases and injuries for which doctors are trying to find other ways of treatment while minimising contact. Coronavirus has brought the topic of telemedicine at the forefront of prevention, but its benefits have existed at some level for several years now.

Telemedicine is the combination of telecommunication and information technology to diagnose and treat health issues. During this pandemic, telemedicine has served as a bridge between patients and doctors. It has enabled people to break geographical barriers and shorten hospital queues. With their collective efforts, doctors in Pakistan have sowed the seeds of telemedicine in the form of Marham, Tele Polyclinic, MediCall Health Solutions, and Sehat Kahani. These online platforms aim at revolutionising healthcare in our country and incorporate specialist doctors from all over Pakistan and abroad.

Nothing beats face-to-face consultations with a doctor, but in light of the pandemic and lockdowns, live consultations have become connoted with fear of contracting Covid-19 and less access to healthcare. So what is the next best thing? The answer is telemedicine or online healthcare services.

Dr Mujeeb Rehman, a young doctor from Sindh province, has furthered the cause of telemedicine in Pakistan by starting an online initiative by the name of Tele Polyclinic which provides a convenient way of delivering healthcare and improving access to healthcare for non-emergency issues. Tele Polyclinic was launched in March 2018 with a website and an Android application and now has the biggest traffic through a closed Facebook group of more than 30,000 members. The Android application connects patients with doctors who evaluate, diagnose, and treat patients using digital communication and software.

Tele Polyclinic has more than 3,000 registered doctors and more than 300 specialists who provide free of cost online consultation to patients. It has a team of more than 70 people including administrators and moderators who are doctors and medical students from different medical colleges of Pakistan. These students are the first responders and get patients connected to doctors with relevant specialisations. The experts then aid patients and doctors in various steps of remote healthcare delivery by disseminating health information in a timely manner. An IT team works side by side to keep the website and Android application alive. This network has equal contribution from lady doctors and female patients always have the choice of taking help directly from lady doctors through phone or video calls whenever needed.

On a daily basis, around 70 to 80 medical cases (around 200 cases per day during the Covid-19 lockdown) are solved through the closed Facebook group and almost 100-150 cases through inbox messaging (300-400 cases per day during the Covid-19 lockdown). The first case of Covid-19 in Pakistan was reported from Karachi on February 26, 2020. Almost nine months into the pandemic, Tele Polyclinic doctors alone have helped more than 50,000 patients.

Digital healthcare has its limitations and at times it becomes necessary to refer patients to nearby doctors who help by physically examining the patient and conducting real time investigations. Many doctors working on online platforms such as Marham, Sehat Kahani, MediCall Health Solutions among others also advise patients to come to their clinics and help them by rendering free of cost treatment. This beautiful gesture of Pakistani doctors needs to be lauded. People who cannot afford expensive medical consultations can make use of these online facilities.

During these troubling times, the use of telemedicine can slow the transmission of the virus by keeping at-risk people out of crowded waiting rooms and reducing their contact with carriers. Many medical facilities across the world are incorporating telemedicine as a routine practice to elevate standards of patient care. It is high time we followed suit.

Originally published at Tribune