Telemedicine in a Pandemic: What to Know and What to Expect

Using telehealth and telemedicine services during a pandemic can help keep you safe. Learn about telehealth and telemedicine in Singapore and find out what to expect.

by L.H.

Telehealth and telemedicine services help ensure that medical care is delivered to anyone who needs them in an efficient, safe and timely manner, even during a pandemic. Read on to find out what you should know and expect. 

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has led to many new healthcare challenges. Enabling access to healthcare while prioritising the health and safety of both the care recipients and care providers have never been more important. It comes as no surprise then, that demand for telehealth and telemedicine has boomed during the COVID-19 pandemic

Even before the pandemic, we as caregivers often already find ourselves faced with the difficult task of ensuring our loved ones receive the care they need in a safe and timely manner. When care recipients have limited mobility or have weak immune systems, for instance, arranging medical care can quickly become a logistical headache. This is made even more difficult during a pandemic when caregivers and care providers have to make sure that care is provided while abiding by pandemic social restrictions and guarding against the COVID-19 virus at the same time.

Telehealth and telemedicine can be a highly effective ways of safely delivering medical care during a pandemic for caregivers, care recipients, and care providers alike. Here at Homage, we have curated some essential information about telehealth and telemedicine to help you make an informed, efficient and safe choice about your care needs. 

What is Telehealth?

Telehealth can seem like an alien concept for the uninitiated, but it is in fact, rather simple and intuitive to grasp. Referring to the use of digital information and communication technologies to access and manage healthcare services remotely, these are technologies either used by care recipients from the comfort of their homes, or by care providers to improve or supplement healthcare services.

From a quick call on your mobile phone to your doctor to ask about simple symptoms, to a video conference with your doctor on your laptop for a full consultation, the various technologies of telehealth should already be familiar to most of us. 

Telehealth can look like: 

  • Using your mobile phone to upload dietary intake, or track medication dosing and blood sugar levels for a medical professional to review and respond online
  • Downloading an app to help regulate your dietary intake
  • Using an app to estimate how much insulin you need, based on your diet and exercise

Not only does telehealth make consulting a doctor more convenient for us, it has a greater impact on the world by making healthcare accessible to people who live in rural or isolated communities. Access to healthcare services can also be rendered with ease to care recipients with limited mobility. 

Depending on your care needs, telehealth can allow medical professionals greater flexibility and coordination in providing the care you need, and also provide support for you to have greater autonomy in managing your own health.

What is Telemedicine? 

Telemedicine is a specific set of healthcare services delivered remotely through technology as part of telehealth. It refers to the provision of care by a care provider to a care recipient without them being physically present with each other. Telemedicine is what really sets telehealth services apart from traditional ways of delivering healthcare to care recipients. 

Telemedicine can look like: 

  • Having your test results and medical scan reports sent directly to you for follow-up and debrief 
  • Getting a medical diagnosis or evaluation remotely, typically through a videoconferencing

The biggest draw of telemedicine for most of us, however, has to be the possibility of having online doctor consultations from the comfort of our homes without the fuss or worry of a physical visit to a hospital or clinic. Telemedicine also allows us greater flexibility in fitting your healthcare needs into your personal schedule, giving us added convenience. 

Why are Telehealth and Telemedicine important in a pandemic like COVID-19?

During a pandemic like COVID-19, maintaining good hygiene and health practices are of utmost importance to combat the spread of COVID-19. Mask-wearing in Singapore, for instance, has largely become a norm during the pandemic, thanks to governmental efforts and our responsible citizenry. 

While cases of COVID-19 have remained relatively low in Singapore compared to other countries, it does not mean that we are free from its dangers. Everyone, no matter how careful, is still at risk of getting infected by the COVID-19 virus because of how contagious and persistent it is.  

This is especially concerning for the vulnerable, who are often either seniors or the very young. As they typically have weaker immune systems, the risk of infection by COVID-19 is naturally greater. Shorter exposure to COVID-19 virus particles may be enough to cause an infection and result in more severe consequences. It is therefore prudent for these individuals to avoid exposure to the virus as much as possible.

Adding onto that are the various pandemic-mandated social distancing measures and practices that care recipients and care providers must navigate to safeguard their health from COVID-19 infection. Hospitals and clinics, for example, must impose capacity limits and individuals may end up facing long queue times and unnecessary exposure to large crowds. 

For these reasons, telehealth and telemedicine are important in a pandemic like COVID-19. Without the need for care recipients and care providers to be physically present with each other,  they help ensure that care providers can continue to deliver care in an efficient, safe and timely manner.

When should you consider telemedicine services? 

While anyone with symptoms that do not require urgent care can use telemedicine and enjoy the convenience it brings, it can be especially helpful for those with limited mobility. 

Even if you are unsure if your condition can be accurately diagnosed and treated through a teleconsultation, you can still ring up a doctor online first. If the doctor finds that an in-person consultation is required, they will advise accordingly.

What conditions are suitable for an online doctor consultation? 

Now that you have a better understanding of telehealth and telemedicine, you may be eager to start arranging for your very first online doctor consultation. It is important, however, to know what kinds of medical situations, conditions and symptoms are suitable for online doctor consultations. 

Broadly speaking, medical conditions or situations that are relatively mild and non-urgent are suitable to be addressed by a doctor online. These can include simple coughs, flu, mild fevers or skin rashes.

In cases of serious symptoms like severe abdominal pain, physical trauma, or nausea, it is still recommended to arrange for a physical doctor consultation. For situations and conditions that require urgent medical attention, please call an ambulance and visit the emergency department immediately.

Pros and Cons of Telemedicine

During a pandemic like COVID-19, telemedicine offers some big advantages in keeping us safe and healthy while accessing the healthcare that we need. 

Pros of Telemedicine

  • Avoid  queues and crowds at clinics, hospitals and minimise exposure to disease during a pandemic like COVID-19
  • Ease and flexibility in deciding when you want to see a doctor
  • Save time and money travelling to and fro your home and the medical institution
  • Accessing healthcare in the comfort of your home

Cons of Telemedicine:

  • Requires digital literacy in order to effectively use video conferencing platforms or mobile apps*
  • Limited range of suitable medical situations or conditions that can be adequately addressed

* If your loved one would like to try teleconsultation but does not know how to set it up, Homage can assign a caregiver to visit your home and assist your loved one with their online consultation.

Is consulting an online doctor safe?

It is understandable to doubt the quality of medical diagnoses and evaluations made through telemedicine services, given that the field remains new. However, it is interesting to note that a majority of patients who have used telehealth services found that the quality of care matches in-person visits, with a sizable number stating that it was even better, as mentioned in this study.

It is important to note that care providers are obliged to provide the same quality and standard of care for all medical services rendered to care recipients whether through traditional face-to-face consultations or online consultations. 

Here in Singapore, the Ministry of Health has further released National Telemedicine Guidelines to hold care providers accountable. We should also be prudent and choose accredited care providers that are listed by the Ministry of Health when possible, before telemedicine is licensed in Singapore under the upcoming Healthcare Services Act (HCSA) in 2022.

What to Expect During a Teleconsultation

Teleconsultations typically happen over a dedicated videoconferencing or smartphone app that your care provider provides to you. Once you download the application, you can then book and arrange for your appointment slot for your online doctor consultation. 

Just like regular visits to the doctor, your doctor will evaluate your health by asking about your medical history and symptoms that you may be experiencing. This of course, could take place over a video call, an audio call, or a hybrid of chat and video depending on the specific application of your care provider. 

Possible Costs and Subsidies for Telemedicine Services

On average, an online consultation costs around $20 to $25 in Singapore and is generally affordable. Given the COVID-19 pandemic, the Singapore Government has also extended some existing government healthcare subsidies to cover online doctor consultations for chronic diseases. Singaporeans and Permanent Residents will now be able to use their Community Health Assist Scheme (CHAS) cards and MediSave to  pay for: 

  • the video consultation;
  • related drugs; and 
  • related investigations. 

We understand that telemedicine may only be a small part of a larger group of healthcare expenses, so it is always helpful to find out what other subsidies you may be eligible for to offset the cost of your online doctor consultation and other caregiving-related services.

Home care providers like Homage can step in to provide respite care whenever you need it. Our trained Care Pros are able to assist with your loved one’s care needs while you take a breather. Fill in the form below for a free consultation to learn how we can support your loved one’s care plan!

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References
  1. On, Pamela Ariel (2020, July 23), Telehealth gets a boost from COVID-19 pandemic, Channel News Asia [Newspaper Article]. Retrieved 3 March, from https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/business/telehealth-gets-a-boost-from-covid-19-pandemic-12945990
  2. Mayo Clinic, Telehealth: Technology meets health care [Webpage]. Retrieved 3 March, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/consumer-health/in-depth/telehealth/art-20044878
  3. Ministry of Health Singapore  National Telemedicine Guidelines [Webpage]. rRetrieved 3 March, from https://www.moh.gov.sg/docs/librariesprovider5/resources-statistics/guidelines/moh-cir-06_2015_30jan15_telemedicine-guidelines-rev.pdf
  4. Ministry of Health, Singapore LISTING OF DIRECT TELEMEDICINE PROVIDERS: TRANSITION APPROACH PRIOR TO LICENSING UNDER THE HEALTHCARE SERVICES ACT (HCSA) [Webpage]. Retrieved 3 March, from https://www.moh.gov.sg/licensing-and-regulation/telemedicine
  5. Ministry of Health, Singapore TIME-LIMITED EXTENSION OF CHAS SUBSIDY AND USE OF MEDISAVE FOR FOLLOW UP OF CHRONIC CONDITIONS THROUGH VIDEO CONSULTATIONS IN VIEW OF COVID-19 [Webpage]. Retrieved 3 March, from https://www.moh.gov.sg/covid-19/vc
  6. Donelan, K., Barreto, E. A., Sossong, S., Michael, C., Estrada, J. J., Cohen, A. B., Wozniak, J., & Schwamm, L. H. (2019). Patient and clinician experiences with telehealth for patient follow-up care. The American journal of managed care, 25(1), 40–44.
About the Writer
L.H.
L.H. is a writer who guzzles coffee a little too much for his own good.
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