Initiatives, both public and private, tap soaring potential amid Covid-19
As hospitals see an upsurge of patients amid the Covid-19 crisis alongside other medical complications, telemedicine services appear as a great relief for healthcare providers and patients.
Additionally, the fear among most people about physically seeing doctors due to higher risks of getting infected with the virus is raising the demand for telemedicine services, say health sector people.
Many doctors now consult with their patients through video conferencing--a practice that became popular after the imposition of a countrywide lockdown to combat the pandemic last March.
The demand for this form of healthcare led to the launch of many more such telemedicine service platforms.
Almost all government hospitals, including Dhaka Medical College Hospital as well as almost all renowned private hospitals of the country, have begun this service, according to the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS).
Web cameras have been installed in each upazila and district level hospital, medical college and post-graduate institutes to provide telemedicine service using Skype or any other video conferencing platforms.
Official data show that nearly 1,17,83,210 services have been provided between March 8, 2020 and April 25 this year, with half the cases relating to Covid-19 patients.
How telemedicine services are provided
Healthcare institutes and hospitals are taking appointments and providing services through the internet, using voice and video calls and using shortened numbers.
Some apps and over-the-top (OTT) platforms, including WhatsApp, Viber, Zoom, etc., are being used for this service as well.
Many private organizations are providing services through their Facebook pages and messaging options. Some doctors and physicians are personally providing telemedicine services to their patients.
Among the telemedicine service providers are national health call center, Shastho Batayon 16263, LifeSpring, Synesis Health, Digital Health and Pulse Healthcare.
What beneficiaries and service providers say
“My father had Covid-19 symptoms. As the country is going through a lockdown and it is risky to go to hospitals, I booked an online appointment for a doctor. It was the same as being physically in front of a doctor,” said Ahmed Jubayer, from Malibagh.
Also Read - High demand for telemedicine in pandemic
Yahia Amin, founder chairman of Lifespring, said that some 30% of the firm’s patients used their services from outside the country, such as India, Europe, Canada and Australia.
In many cases, patients were more interested in online services because it protected their privacy, he said.
“It is often seen that hesitation works in them. In that case they can conveniently take the service online,” Amin added.
Nizam Uddin Ahmed, chief executive of Synesis Health, which takes care of the government's Shastho Batayon (SB) call center, said that more than 150 doctors were providing telemedicine services from the platform.
Urban people were mostly using this telemedicine service, said Nizam.
“As the pandemic onslaught increases, the need to see a doctor has increased manifold,” said Mohammad Abdul Matin, chief executive officer of Pulse Healthcare services.
Status of some service providers
The services that LifeSpring offers include consultation on psychiatry, rheumatology, internal medicine, dermatology, venereology, gynaecology, pediatrics, endocrinology, sexual medicine and training.
Lifespring has already brought 1 crore people under its services. Among them the total number of patients consulted by telemedicine and online counseling were around 20,000 up to April this year. Its followers on its Facebook page increased to 677,000.
Among all calls received by LifeSpring, 70% are for doctors' digital appointments.
Consultation with general practitioners is free, as 20 designated doctors diagnose patients without taking any fees, but the call rate ranges from Tk0.50-0.57 per minute.
Synesis Health said that as many as 9,863 calls were made to it on April 25 alone.
On average the current number of calls is about 11,000-12,000 per day, which was 15,000 till November last year.
Shastho Batayon charges Tk0.60 per minute, while patients' consultation with specialized doctors is free.
Each doctor can take 100 calls from patients out of the 120 calls they receive per shift. Currently there are 15 doctors in three shifts.
Pulse Healthcare, another telemedicine service provider, has more than 1,000 registered doctors providing telemedicine services. Appointments of doctors for video calls have doubled its services were launched.
Each doctor is observing 8-10 patients per day through audio and video calls, officials of the firm said.
Currently, Pravaa Health serves 150,000 patients. In 2020, it also processed 75,000 Covid-19 tests in-house.
Most of Praava’s patients currently pay per visit, and its pricing is somewhere between Bangladesh’s public healthcare system and more expensive private hospitals.