The challenges in delivering a successful telemedicine service

The challenges in delivering a successful telemedicine service

Dr Walter Lim, Managing Director Clinical Services, Fullerton Health

Dr Walter Lim, Managing Director Clinical Services, Fullerton Health

Technology permeates every aspect of our lives. The healthcare sector increasingly uses telecommunications and virtual technology to deliver services beyond traditional healthcare facilities. Examples include videoconferencing between doctors and patients, electronic transmission of medical records, remote monitoring of vital signs and nursing call centers.

One of the key factors driving the growth of telemedicine is the global shortage of healthcare workers. At least 12.9 million more healthcare workers will be needed by 2035, says the World Health Organisation (WHO). With access to healthcare hampered by a lack of healthcare workers, telemedicine is stepping in to fill this gap.

The lack of access to healthcare, especially in developing countries, is another factor driving telemedicine growth. With telemedicine, people who live far away from healthcare facilities will be able to talk to medical professionals through internet connection. Medical information can be shared in real time and basic diagnoses can be made on the spot. Patients needing more care beyond the teleconsultation can be referred to the nearest clinic or hospital.

Other factors driving the growth of telemedicine include rapid technological advancements, a ready pool of investors and a new willingness to embrace technology among the population.

It is therefore not surprising that the demand for telemedicine is growing rapidly. The Asia Pacific telemedicine market is expected to increase from US$8.51 billion in 2020 to US$22.51 billion in 2025, says the Asia Pacific Telemedicine Market Research Report.

Fullerton Health’s strong belief is that technology serves to support our vision of affordable and accessible care for our Clients and Patients

Telemedicine meets challenges posed by COVID-19

This growth is further fuelled by the COVID-19 situation. When the pandemic hit, social distancing became the norm and people around the world turned online for most activities including their healthcare needs. Besides bringing greater convenience to patients, telemedicine also reduces the risk and exposure. It also helps to mitigate the problem of overstretched healthcare staff and facilities so that they do not need to cater to large numbers of patients seeking help onsite. 

Driven by safety and convenience, the pandemic has provided a boost to efforts of many developed nations to further consolidate its telehealth infrastructure and systems. Singapore is one of the early adopters of telemedicine within Asia Pacific. Before COVID-19, the island state had already built strong telemedicine platforms with the government’s support. The Philips’ 2019 Future Health Index survey reported that 64 percent of healthcare professionals in Singapore currently use some form of connected care technology to carry out diagnosis, treatment, or management of their patients.

Integrated Health Information Systems (IHIS), Singapore’s national health IT agency, said that the use of technology has resulted in the adoption of a healthcare model that is “manpower light and tech heavy”. With the majority of confirmed COVID-19 cases being relatively healthy, these patients are managed with the use of remote monitoring tech in newly created community care facilities, while manpower is deployed to focus on higher-risk patients.

At the height of the pandemic in the middle of 2020, when the world fought the infodemic war against false information and scare mongering, Fullerton Health released our proprietary technology for a free version of a COVID 19 symptom checker on the LiveFuller App across our markets in APAC. This AI enabled app is customised with current information from WHO and the respective countries response plan. This is to allay fears and concerns and help direct people to the right resources to relieve pressure on medical resource at the hospitals.

In Singapore to encourage more Singaporeans to voluntarily step forward for vaccination, Fullerton Health offered free post COVID 19 vaccination teleconsult support. In addition, there was a waiver of delivery charges if medication was required after the teleconsult.

Online and offline medical services for best patient outcomes, Supporting Preventive Health & Chronic Care

Whilst Telemedicine has certainly come to the fore in terms of patient awareness and adoption, Fullerton Health sees Telemedicine as one of many channels for patient outreach and care delivery, and a powerful tool to augment our physical clinic locations, health screening centers and onsite medical services.

Proper co-ordination of online and offline services would ensure the best possible care for patients. Telemedicine on its own, is unable to deliver effective care without strong clinical pathways, medical governance and ongoing training of medical professionals in the appropriate and effective use of technology.

Fullerton’s medical and product development teams are working on an ongoing basis to continuously refine the online-offline patient journey for important clinical use cases such as Preventive Health – where availability of digital Health Screening Results is combined with ready access to Telemedicine doctors for convenient discussion and advice on lifestyle and good health habits. Chronic disease management, with a combination of home based monitoring, physical review where warranted, and convenient Telemedical follow-up for stable cases and medication refill is another key scenario where the combination of online and offline capabilities can provide for an enhanced patient experience. 

Adapting Technology to the Local Context in APAC Markets

In the APAC region Fullerton Health operates over 600 healthcare facilities, across 10 markets, with 13 million health transactions a year, Fullerton Health has extensive experience in running traditional on-ground healthcare services.

As part of its digital strategy, Fullerton Health has deployed  telemedicine in these markets to improve access to care, taking into account that  healthcare is nuanced, perceived and delivered differently in different communities and with local considerations.

As such, even as we leverage common technology assets across our group, localized Telemedicine offerings are created to deliver care in the different markets across APAC. Particularly LiveFuller was created as a comprehensive digital health platform by Fullerton Health that connects people with its online and offline services throughout Asia Pacific.

Technology Enabled Healthcare Services – Centered on Client and Patient

Fullerton Health’s strong belief is that technology serves to support our vision of affordable and accessible care for our Clients and Patients.

As markets and technology adoption matures – the path forward, is moving from a technology centered perspective – Health Tech, to a patient centered perspective – Tech Enabled Healthcare Services.

Fullerton’s goal remains to address patient concerns and provide efficient solutions to their challenges as they strive towards health and wellbeing.

As demonstrated during the Circuit Breaker period, when patients had to stay at home. Patients with chronic conditions need not worry about running low on medications for conditions such as hypertension and cholesterol. Connecting with a Telemedicine doctor on our platform, the doctor is able to access the patient’s medical history from prior visits to Fullerton clinics. The Tele consult allows the doctor to ensure the patient’s chronic conditions are well controlled and can prescribe a refill that will be delivered directly to the patient’s home. An in person consult will be can be scheduled in 2-3 months, if needed.

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