With the cases of Covid-19 growing by the day, new and more efficient ways of treating patients have become very important. That is where the valuable contribution of telemedicine comes in.
“I had a lot of pain in my ear and needed immediate medical attention during the lockdown,” said Mohammad Saiful Islam, a journalist from a national daily. “So, I tried a health facility that provides telemedicine and I was really satisfied with the service that I got. I got an appointment for video call within one day of registration, had my ear checked by a specialised doctor and received a prescription for necessary medicine only for Tk 400.”
Many private and government organisations are now providing telemedicine in the country. Telemedicine is a system enabling a patient to consult a doctor electronically, over the phone or via video call. Here, the doctor can advise and prescribe medicine upon inspection. Minor illnesses such as fever, stomachache, headache and even symptoms of Covid-19 can be checked out by telemedicine.
“This has helped us to treat more patients efficiently,” said a medical officer working at Shastho Batayon, a national medical call centre run by the government of Bangladesh. “There are a lot of people who buy medicines from pharmacies without any consultation. By talking to us, people can get the proper medical advice.”
Telemedicine has made medical attention virtually accessible to anyone in any corner of the country. With the easy access of doctors, patients can verify the need and type of medicine from experts instead of consuming them impulsively. Moreover, in the rural areas where the number of doctors is very insignificant compared to the number of patients, telemedicine can help patients consult doctors from anywhere. This has also helped the elderly to be in constant touch with doctors without any hassle.
“My 60-year-old grandmother has been suffering from back pain for the past 4 to 5 years. Whenever she had to go to a doctor, the journey to the doctor alone would cause her back pain for days,” Jannat Newas, a pharmacy graduate from the University of Asia Pacific shared. “And now she talks to a doctor on a regular basis about her health -- that too sitting on her rocking chair idly.”
During the times of Covid-19, the need for doctors has increased severely. Due to the lockdown and contagious nature of the virus, physical visits to doctors have become difficult, but telemedicine has become the solution for that.
“Before the pandemic, we used to receive very few calls per day,” said Dr Salauddin Sujon, a medical officer at Shastho Batayon. “And for the past year, more than 100 calls have been received by each doctor and that is too in one particular shift.”
In January 2020, Shastho Batayon received a total of 16,820 calls, which was before the detection of the first case of Covid-19 in Bangladesh. But in August 2020, the total number of calls increased to 358,792 and the majority were for Covid-19 related services. So, it is understandable that more people are realising the benefits of telemedicine.
Understandably, telemedicine is a mode of consultancy for only mild cases or symptoms. For severe cases, it is always advised to get admitted to a hospital for the most effective treatment.
“Whenever we feel that the patient may be showing symptoms of severe cases such as cardiac arrest, stroke, etc. we right away advise them to get admitted to their nearest hospital,” said Dr Salauddin. “We have to remember that telemedicine is effective as long as it is not a severe case.”
Telemedicine services in Bangladesh
Shastho Batayon has been one of the busiest telemedicine service providers in Bangladesh. By dialling the toll-free number 16263, people can get healthcare service, consultation and much more 24/7. According to Directorate General Health Services (DGHS), there are government-issued telemedicine services in two specialised hospitals (BSMMU and National Institute of Cardiovascular Diseases), three district hospitals (Shatkhira, Nilphamari and Gopalganj) and three sub-district hospitals (Pirgonj, Dakope and Debhata) among many others.
Praava Health, Tonic, Maya, Sebaghar, LifeSpring, Synesis Health, Pulse Healthcare are amon many private organisations that serve an abundant number of patients virtually everyday.
With the digitisation of Bangladesh, the current heavy usage and the advantages of this system, it can be hoped that the services of telemedicine will continue to grow and evolve even in the post-pandemic era.
“Since each call has a doctor’s undivided attention, the patient feels heard and satisfied in this service,” remarked Dr Salauddin. “Ultimately, it’s the patient’s satisfaction that we work for.”
The writer is a student at IBA (DU).