How the COVID-19 pandemic changed the health and consultation landscape

Healthcare professionals weigh in on the importance of telemedicine in strengthening our healthcare systems.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared 2021 to be the International Year of Health and Care Workers (YHCW) in appreciation and gratitude for their dedication in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. Under a shared vision of “Health for All”, the WHO campaign aims to highlight the importance of investing in healthcare workers and ensuring appropriate protection and conditions of work.

In the Philippines, the fight continues against COVID-19. In our current situation, the challenge of managing the daily rise in cases falls on our existing healthcare systems and the professionals tasked with keeping those systems in check. While the onset of the pandemic may have highlighted some areas for improvement in terms of the allocation and distribution of local healthcare resources, COVID-19 also served as a catalyst to highlight important developments to provide Filipinos with improved access to quality healthcare and treatment solutions.

For both professionals and patients, the pandemic made telehealth a more viable option to give and receive medical care. The sudden shift to telehealth has helped disprove a longstanding assumption about the platform – that telehealth addresses health concerns even remotely. However, with local restrictions on travel and movement still in place, patients have realized the ease and convenience of being able to see a doctor without having to travel, stay in a waiting room and risk exposure to germs or any illnesses. On the other hand, through telemedicine, doctors can see more patients in a day and healthcare institutions can allocate more manpower and resources towards bringing the fight to COVID-19. As systems continue to develop, for non-emergency situations, telehealth looks to be more of a main option for patients looking for treatment instead of a mere alternative.

“Bridging the gap between the Haves and Have-nots, all Filipinos can have equal access to quality medical care through telemedicine. Medgate treats 80% of cases telemedically. This means, patients will no longer need to consult with a doctor face-to-face. We will be able to cater to more patients if infrastructure will be upgraded where Filipinos have access to a strong telecommunication signal.” Dra. Arlene Claudio, Medgate Philippines Medical Director

Local developments in the field of telehealth have come with the ongoing shift towards digitalization across the world. As access to the internet has become more accessible, more and more Filipinos are now online. With smartphone users across the country growing in number each year, the continued digitization of healthcare is important to break the geographical barriers that impede access to quality healthcare in the country.

With innovative healthcare made easy as our mission, our tele-treatment program is equipped to provide care that comforts. Last year, we saw our teleconsultations increase by 170%. By understanding developments in both the current local healthcare landscape, and the behavior of Filipinos in digital spaces, we continue to streamline our services to solve patient concerns more efficiently, wherever our patients may be, and whatever time they find themselves in need.

“Telemedicine is a valuable tool in decongesting our hospitals for the much needed tertiary care to critically ill patients needing them. Out-patient, non-emergency cases can easily be and safely handled telemedically, protecting patients from exposure to more deadly infections, and also discouraging people to self medicate that might worsen their existing medical condition”, Dra. Claudio added.

Both in terms of care and knowledge sharing, quickly adapting to technology solutions was an important part of our healthcare system’s response to COVID-19. However, as technology continues to evolve, the ways we provide and enable access to healthcare must change with the times as well. While the pandemic may have created a shift towards the use of telehealth, ongoing efforts must be made to further integrate telehealth with our existing healthcare systems – working together to improve the system as a whole, and to provide care for more Filipinos across the country.