Interest in telemedicine service up

Amdadul Haque

People’s interest in telemedicine service is increasing day by day, especially in the present lockdown situation and acute shortage of doctors at hospitals. This service is safe for both the doctor and the patient. Everyone is more likely to be risk free. A school teacher Mehzabin Nahar Soniya, suffering from eye pain did not know what to do as it was risky to go out in the lockdown situation coupled with the chances of not getting a doctor.

Two days passed, and later, she learned online that a voluntary organization was giving medical advice on the mobile phone. She called the hotline and got a person to hear her problem, and in turn, the latter gave her the phone number of an eye specialist, who heard her problems, and prescribed medicine.

Mehzabin Soniya is now well and very happy with the service. Not only Soniya, but also many more are now taking medical services online or cell phones. Bangladesh Medical Association Secretary General Md Ihteshamul Haque Chowdhury said, “90 percent of normal patients in America are seen online. We have been prescribing patients of different districts including Dhaka through Facebook, Twitter, Skype and cell phone. We are providing them doctors’ mobile numbers. Where they can take advice from the specialists as there is lockdown for coronavirus. It is better for the patients to not to go to hospital now.”

He said that now several organizations are giving treatment on mobile phones. Some doctors are also giving treatment on mobile phones at their own initiative. Some organizations are also giving medicine service as free home delivery.

ZR Foundation Executive Director Professor Forhad Halim said, “we have started giving treatment on mobile before everyone else. When people were being deprived of treatment, they were not getting treatment in the hospital, so we arranged tele treatment. At present we have 120 specialist doctors associated with it.”

"We send prescriptions through SMS to patient’s mobile phones. We have volunteers to deliver medicines to patient’s homes and expanded this service in Dhaka and divisional cities,” he added. Meanwhile, Mugda Medical College Hospital in the capital had already launched a hotline for telemedicine services. The phone numbers to avail the service are 01844665336, 01844665337 and 01844665585. More than 50 patients take the services round the clock daily, said the hospital’s Deputy Director Abu Hashem Sheikh. Local MP Saber Hossain Chowdhury is donating the phones for the service, he said.

“We call back whenever a patient sends us SMS. We give the patient a prescription after hearing their complaints. The patient can buy the medicines but in case of financial inability to do so, a patient near the hospital can come and collect the medicines,” Hashem said. “An assistant professor, a medical officer and a staff member provide the services in each of three eight-hour shifts,” he added.

However, telemedicine is a means for health practitioners to keep patients at home and to provide them healthcare remotely. Telemedicine is the exchange of medical information from one location to another using electronic communication.

As hundreds of millions of people in the country are staying home right now and will continue to do so over the next few weeks to minimize the spread of the coronavirus, it seems telemedicine is suddenly getting attention from healthcare providers.

Public health experts said that although this is not a recent phenomenon, the technology based service has now emerged as a way for health practitioners to keep general patients at home and ensure that they, especially those whose lives are at risk due to coronavirus infection, receive the necessary treatment without needing to come out of their homes.

It helps doctors ensure security for themselves and also for patients who might go to hospitals for the flu or other common ailments. With telemedicine, patients would also get more timely healthcare services.

Dr Uttom Kumar Barua, Shaheed Suhrawardy Medical College Hospital Director, said, “For the time being people should avoid visiting doctors for common complaints. Healthcare professionals need to be focused on people suffering from Covid-19 symptoms right now.” He remarked that telemedicine will help maintain social distancing and keep patients from infecting other patients and provide convenient and cost-effective medical care.

DGHS Additional Director General Sanya Tahmina advised people to not visit hospitals without consulting with doctors beforehand, and urged people to call government telemedicine hotlines 16263, 333, and 10655, or 01944333222 for health related queries. Dr Azizur Rahman Mamun said, “Telemedicine is an innovative sector of healthcare that allows patients to consult doctors remotely. Now, it is proving useful during the coronavirus pandemic. It could help solve problems without overcrowding hospitals and putting people at further risk. All you need is a laptop or smartphone with internet access and you can consult with general physicians or even specialists anytime, from anywhere."

The telemedicine platform features fully encrypted live call and video consultation with certified professionals, said a press release. It also allows e-prescriptions, instant messaging with doctors, electronic file sharing for patients' history etc. However, many more telemedicine services are available during this pandemic as well, whose information is available on