The Financial Express

Coronavirus pandemic

Some major hospitals to offer tele-consultation

Sudden absenteeism of doctors prompts the move

JUBAIR HASAN | Published: April 01, 2020 09:22:59 | Updated: April 01, 2020 11:54:34

An illustrative image. — Collected Photo An illustrative image. — Collected Photo

Some of the country's major hospitals have decided to launch telephone-based, virtual medicare services to the non-COVID-19 patients as the shutdown has been extended, physicians and officials say.

A few of such facilities have already introduced telemedicine facility, which has drawn good response from patients, they said.

The move came in response to the mounting sufferings of people having mild or serious medical conditions as physicians preferred to stay home to avoid contracting the new coronavirus. This originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan in late December and has now reached more than 200 countries. Doctors around the country have stopped private practice as well.

The state-run Mugda Medical College and Hospital introduced the telemedicine facility from March 26, with three dedicated numbers- 01844665585, 01844665336 and 01844665337-considering the people's demand for healthcare during near lockdown countrywide.

A patient Ms Rokeya hailed the service and said she dialled one of the hotlines and her call was picked up instantly by an assistant before being passed on to an on-duty doctor there.

She shared her problems and recently-done reports of the pathological tests with the doctor who later prescribed her some medicines over phone.

"The doctor also suggested me to consult with a specialist for proper treatment when the situation gets normal," she said.

"I think it's a good initiative and it will give some sort of relief to patients like me," she added.

When contacted, attending doctor at the telemedicine unit Anup Kumar Biswas said they received 80 to 90 calls per shift, the duration of which is eight hours.

"The number of incoming calls keeps increasing," he said.

According to Mr Biswas, the hospital authority set up the round-the-clock unit and four persons, including two physicians to work in each shift totalling three.

"A professor was also tagged with the unit and we take her suggestions if we find a critical patient," he added.

Like Mugda hospital, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University, or BSMMU, has also decided to launch the facility encouraging people to get necessary healthcare tips from home.

Talking to the FE, BSMMU pro-vice chancellor (Administration) professor Dr. Muhammad Rafiqul Alam said the authorities have decided to launch special hotlines as people face trouble in getting medicare services soon after Bangladesh reported death due to Covid-19 infection.

"Some 200 physicians will be available in the hotlines through which people from every corner of the country will get necessary medicare suggestions or tips," he said.

The hospital authority has been talking with the ride sharing company Uber to avail their technical assistance to ensure smooth service delivery, he noted. "At the same time, discussion with the Grameenphone and state-run ICT division is at the final stages. We're hopeful of launching the service soon with a pool of 200 qualified physicians," he added.

BSMMU associate professor (respiratory medicine) Dr. Shamim Ahmed, a member of the committee that deals with the hotline affairs, said they also decided to run special and regular televised programme with specialists in different fields.

"People can call via the numbers that will be shown during the live programme. We're communicating with some television channels," he added.

The Bangladesh Institute of Research and Rehabilitation in Diabetes, Endocrine and Metabolic Disorders, or BIRDEM, has also decided to use the telemedicine facility to reach their patients.

Joint director of BIRDEM's hospital services division Dr Nazimul Islam said they have taken some important decisions like using the hotline number of Bangladesh Diabetic Samity.

"We've reached the decision today (Tuesday) in a meeting with the top management. We want to use it in a broader way. It might take some time to complete the system," he added.

Telemedicine is being used as an important healthcare tool in many countries around the world, including neighbouring India. In the system, people pay online and get the necessary services from physicians.

Experts stressed the importance of launching proper tele-medicine service, which could help people receive required healthcare tips even from home.

Rights activist Dr Rashid-e-Mahbub said the hotline-based healthcare service should be seen as tele-consultation, not tele-medicine.

"Teleconsultation should be treated as a primary step towards the healthcare. In telemedicine, you need updated data of a patient before the treatment," he said. "How many patients can tell the doctor about their latest blood pressure?" he asked.

"We can use it for primary healthcare service. I don't think it will be fruitful in a way that we're thinking it would," noted Dr Mahbub, a surgeon by training.


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