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COVID drives patients to log on to online doctors

Published:Tuesday | March 17, 2020 | 12:30 AMJudana Murphy/Gleaner Writer
Dr Che Bowen of MDLink Telemedicine Services.
Dr Che Bowen of MDLink Telemedicine Services.

With social distancing becoming the new normal in the wake of 12 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Jamaica, more people have been seeking medical attention through telemedicine.

Telemedicine is the remote delivery of healthcare services such as health assessments or consultations over the phone or online.

CEO of MDLink, Dr Che Bowen, said there has been an uptick in both doctors and patients registering on the platform.

“Over the weekend, I added 30 doctors, and we are seeing about 100 patients registering per day,” Bowen told The Gleaner yesterday.

Before the onset of COVID-19, about 10 to 15 patients would register daily.

US President Donald Trump has boosted telehealth services in the fight against the coronavirus. The federal rule that has been waived allows for doctors to practise in states other than where they are licensed.

Bowen explained that the doctors are spread out across Jamaica’s 14 parishes, with Kingston and St Andrew having the highest number of doctors using the platform.

“It is a need at this point in time to control the virus and avoid the spread of the virus. Patients need to be staying home as the Government has said and doctors need to be staying home as well,” Bowen said.

The CEO explained that charges remain low, as it costs just under $2,000 to see a general practitioner and upwards of $3,000 for consultations with specialists.

Payment must be made online.

Consultations are done with the doctor of choice and patients must select a pharmacy for prescription delivery, where necessary.

“Some would like home deliveries and some of the pharmacies do facilitate that. It is something that we are looking into as well,” Bowen said.

Video chat numbers growing

Patients have the option of choosing to consult with doctors via instant messaging, voice call, or video chat.

The most popular option has been text messaging, but video has overtaken it since the emergence of the novel coronavirus in Jamaica, The Gleaner has learnt.

Chairman and CEO of Advanced Integrated Systems, Douglas Halsall, explained that telemedicine and other information technology solutions are pertinent to responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Mobile money could not be more relevant than it is today. Not simply because it can pay bills remotely and online, but because it can substitute cash, that could be a conveyor of the disease,” Halsall explained.

He envisions telemedicine being used by more Jamaican doctors as well as patients.

“A doctor can be used far more efficiently by not having to spend travel time on the road when they could be seeing patients,” Halsall said.

In 2018, the Government embarked on a telemedicine pilot project for people in remote areas to access medical specialists at The University Hospital of the West Indies.