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Author: savemalaysia   |   Latest post: Mon, 25 Jan 2021, 12:52 PM


Reigniting Malaysia's healthcare with telemedicine By Frederic Ho

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Since the pandemic began, routine doctor visits have become an unnerving task for many. This has led to a surge in patients leveraging telemedicine services in Asia.

In Malaysia, DoctorOnCall breathed new life into the landscape by teaming up with the health ministry to develop a customised virtual health advisory platform that addresses public concerns about Covid-19.

It's worth noting that even before the pandemic hit, telemedicine was on the upswing.

Driven by a shortage of medical professionals and rising costs, several telemedicine providers were already providing remote services, especially for low-risk, high-volume tasks, such as GP consultations and prescription refills. 

Telemedicine can not only help manage the sector's talent shortage by freeing up resources but can also make healthcare more accessible to patients with mobility issues, or those residing in rural areas.

Pushing telemedicine into the mainstream would be one of the most transformative changes to the healthcare system in Malaysia. But how can healthcare players reignite this revolution, and ensure telemedicine's success beyond Covid-19?

From the patient's perspective, there are plenty of practical and emotional considerations before turning to online medical services.

First, patients must be aware of the services offered and feel confident that quality of care is not compromised. Providers must also educate patients about the treatments that are suited for telemedicine vs. those that need in-person assessment.

Second, telemedicine must be easy for patients to use. Once again, the onus is on healthcare providers to cater to a wide base of users with differing digital ability. This particularly applies to older patients, who have the most to gain but also tend to have the lowest levels of digital literacy.

Third, telemedicine needs to be financially accessible for patients, and they need to fully understand the payment and insurance policies surrounding the service.

To facilitate this, telemedicine companies should explore partnering with insurance firms to expand their reach, while making sure that medical services are a viable option for those who need it.

Finally, to ensure greater trust, patients must also be assured that their medical data is being used securely, and compliant with privacy legislation.

Healthcare institutions must not only investigate best practices for safeguarding patient information but communicate this commitment to patients.

To get patients onboard with telemedicine, providers must reimagine the way they manage basic tasks. During an in-person appointment, for example, the registration process pulls patient records, drug allergies and more — which is pivotal in ensuring high-quality care.

A similar process needs to be set up for e-consultations. This is where Know Your Patient (KYP) processes come in. Similar to the banking industry's Know Your Customer process, which enables banks to verify a customer's identity and assess risk, KYP is essential for the safe and accurate delivery of digital healthcare services.

Traditionally, the approach has been to require patients to show their IDs over a video call. However, most practitioners aren't trained to identify fake documentation.

This is why sophisticated technologies, such as biometrics and AI, need to be leveraged for identity verification. This allows KYP to be the first line of defence against fraudsters who use stolen or fake identities to get access to controlled substances or file unlawful insurance claims.

KYP will also enable telemedicine providers to streamline the process of delivering care — from registration to delivering prescriptions — while complying with regulations. It provides a high level of identity assurance, allowing doctors to conduct teleconsultation securely and confidently.

As with any new industry, governments and innovators need to work together to better understand the benefits and limitations of telemedicine. This incl

udes establishing best practices and standards that prioritise patient welfare, but also encourage innovation and ease-of-use.

Malaysia was one of the first countries in Asia to chart this path, with a telemedicine blueprint in 1997. It describes the government's vision for Malaysian healthcare, outlines the role technology plays, and serves as a guide to its implementation.

However, with the rise of telemedicine providers being few and far between, this vision is yet to be realised.

Now, the pandemic has given it fresh impetus. It's crucial for everyone in the healthcare ecosystem reimagine this blueprint for the post-pandemic world. Only then can telemedicine deliver on its greatest benefit — increased accessibility to medical care for everyone across Malaysia, while optimising resources.

* The writer is Vice President of Asia-Pacific, Jumio Corporation



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