Singapore

Telemedicine providers stretched thin as they face flood of calls

Some patients, while on home recovery from Covid-19, wait up to an hour for video consultation

Private telemedicine providers here have been tapped to reinforce the Ministry of Health's (MOH) handling of Covid-19 patients on home recovery, but are stretched thin and facing a flood of calls, such that some patients wait up to an hour to see a doctor virtually.

There are at least nine telemedicine providers - including MaNaDr, MyDoc and Speedoc - currently supporting the thousands isolated under home recovery and quarantine order by leveraging mobile apps.

Their role includes screening patients virtually to confirm that they are suitable for home recovery, providing teleconsultations, delivering medication and in-person swabbing.

While many of the providers have supported recovering migrant workers and are familiar with attending to Covid-19 patients, they did not anticipate the flood of local cases over the past two weeks as Singapore battles a large wave of infections.

MaNaDr's founder, Dr Siaw Tung Yeng, said the provider's list of patients has been growing by several hundred each day since it started home recovery work on Sept 17.

Since Sunday, more than 500 patients who tested positive and had not heard from the authorities have used the MaNaDr mobile app to request teleconsultations.

So far, MaNaDr has been taking care of more than 2,000 people under home recovery.

MyDoc director of clinical operations Matthew Lee said the platform's service has contacted at least 600 patients and their families since it came on board, and that getting manpower to support 24/7 operations has been a challenge.

He added: "We saw many patients who were unsure of what to do after being diagnosed.

"Our doctors had to spend a longer time with each patient to address all the concerns, while other patients were in the queue."

Patients who spoke to The Straits Times said their experience with the teleconsultations has been mixed.

DOCTOR OVERWHELMED

A patient in her 30s, who wanted to be known only as Ms Wong, said the service she was assigned to seemed to be stretched thin.

"I feel sorry for the doctor, who was obviously overwhelmed. He came across to me as disoriented... No medication was offered even though I reported several symptoms."

Ms Wong, who works in shipping, has been self-medicating instead.

Another patient, Ms Adeline Tan, 33, praised her telemedicine provider Speedoc.

"Throughout my whole home recovery journey, it has rendered the most help, and answered all my queries. The doctors were even willing to call me at late hours," said Ms Tan, who works in the pharmaceutical sector.

For telemedicine providers, one key challenge has been getting some new patients on board via the apps.

A spokesman for Doctor Anywhere, one of the providers, said: "We have been told that patients received Covid-19-related scam calls, and this caused some distrust and suspicion in patients when our team made the first call to them."

Telemedicine providers said they have been working to scale up their operations by adding and redeploying doctors.

For instance, MaNaDr said it has doctors who log on to help with teleconsultations after work or between seeing patients in person. In the last week, up to 40 new doctors have joined MaNaDr.

More private healthcare providers will also be offering telemedicine services in the coming days.

Home care service Homage is among the providers under official consideration to support home recovery, while Edgedale Medical Clinic has just come on board.

Information about the telemedicine providers can be found at www.moh.gov.sg/covid-19/general/home-recovery-programme---for-patients

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