What Is The Difference Between Using Telemedicine And Visiting The GP?
Telemedicine has been steadily on the rise in Singapore. Through virtual consultations, telemedicine can improve convenience and accessibility for healthcare services by removing the need to go to the clinic.
The recent pandemic environment has boosted the use of telemedicine as patients minimise going out due to the risk of COVID-19 exposure. According to Bain’s 2019 report on telemedicine, daily active users in March 2020 for Doctor Anywhere and MyDoc increase by about 150% from 2019.
Based on Ministry of Health (MOH), telemedicine has several forms, and it encompasses “…assessment of health, diagnosis, treatment, intervention or care where the service is provided exclusively over a distance through the use of info-communications technology by a medical practitioner or dentist.” While there is no current regulation or licensing for telemedicine, MOH does compile a list of direct telemedicine providers. Telemedicine licensing under the Healthcare Services Act (HCSA) is slated to commence in 2022.
As the telemedicine industry continues to grow in Singapore, here are four differences to take note of before choosing to visit a general practitioner (GP) or use telemedicine.
#1 Most But Not All Common Medical Conditions Can Be Consulted Through Telemedicine
Most common illnesses and chronic conditions can be consulted through telemedicine. Through a video consultation, the doctor would ask us a series of questions to determine our ailments. According to Doctor Anywhere, common illness suitable for telemedicine includes fever, diarrhoea, and sore throat.
Patients with chronic conditions such as diabetes, hypertension and migraine can also use telemedicine. For example, National Healthcare Group Polyclinics has introduced a Telecare Programme for patients with diabetes, high blood pressure or high cholesterol to manage their conditions without the need to frequent the polyclinic.
Depending on the medical condition of concern, an in-person assessment may be necessary. This is where seeing a GP is still important. In some cases, an initial online consultation may be done but you may be asked to make a follow-up in-person GP consultation if your condition worsens.
#2 No Need To Travel Down To A Clinic And Your Medicine Will Be Delivered To Your Home With Telemedicine
For common illnesses suitable for a virtual consultation, the convenience and accessibility of telemedicine can be a useful alternative for us. You can make an online consult at home without leaving your bed. Even with easy access to a GP clinic (Singapore has over 1,700 GP clinic and 20 polyclinics), travelling down to a nearby clinic may be a challenge when we are feeling unwell.
For virtual consults, since we are not at the clinic to physically collect the medication, the medication would be delivered to us with or without an additional cost depending on the platform used.
Additionally, we can use telemedicine to get the necessary prescription approval for prescription-only medication such as chronic illness drug, specific painkillers and even birth control pills. This would help save a trip or more for those of us that require regular medicine refills.
#3 GP Clinics Usually Operate Within Fixed Timing While Most Telemedicine Platforms Can Be Accessed Any Time
GP clinics within our neighbourhoods tend to have fixed opening hours. In Singapore, we only have 15 clinics that operate 24hours for 7 days. However, consultation fees for such clinics are almost as high as the rates for Accident & Emergency (A&E) department, ranging from $70 to $120 per consult.
There are telemedicine platforms such as Homage and Raffles Medical which provides 24/7 video consultations. While there might be related surcharges, the prices are not as high as visiting a 24hours clinic. For parents dealing with a child burning up with fever in the middle of the night, this service can be god-sent instead of heading to A&E.
#4 Most Telemedicine Platforms Are Available At A Subsidised Rate
In most cases, most people pay for our GP consultations out-of-pocket, unless it is included as part of our employment benefits. Unlike hospitalisation and surgery coverage, most GP consultations are not covered under personal insurance.
On the other hand, many telemedicine platforms have tied up with health insurers to provide subsidised consultations. We can check with our insurance providers on the telemedicine options available. For example, AIA Healthshield GoldMax policyholders can use WhiteCoat telemedicine for a flat consultation fee of $12.
Healthcare Services Act (HCSA) Will Be Issuing New Laws For Telemedicine In 2022
Recently, MOH just closed the Licensing Experimentation and Adaptation Programme (LEAP) Regulatory Sandbox that was launched in 2018 to better understand the telemedicine industry. As the telemedicine industry in Singapore progresses, choosing between the different forms of healthcare service will depend on our individual needs. Currently, government hospitals and CHAS clinics have started to roll out telemedicine usage such as remote post-surgery care. As of February 2021, the National Heart Centre Singapore had more than 800 phone and video consultations for patients. With the licensing of telemedicine slated to start in 2022, we can expect more telemedicine providers to come on board and be assured of quality healthcare.
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