The lack of broadband connectivity is seen as one of the biggest hurdles for telemedicine to fully take off in the Philippines.
Telemedicine, defined as a way to conduct healthcare over a mobile device or over the internet, is one of the solutions or pillars of universal healthcare (UHC), particularly during a pandemic.
Officials and executives in a recent webinar on UHC noted that telemedicine in the Philippines is not being deployed on a “widescale” basis yet and that there is “no integration with current” medical practices.
Dr. Raymund Sarmiento, who heads the National Telehealth Center and one of the key officials of the Covid-19 Interagency Task Force, said a law on telemedicine should be crafted with connectivity in mind.
The official said a proposed law should offer guidelines on the minimum requirements that both patients and healthcare providers can use for telemedicine. One of these guidelines is a “secured infrastructure.”
Sarmiento said currently, the public health infrastructure on broadband stands at10%, which remains far from the “ideal” infrastructure needed for telemedicine.
“Digital infrastructure, powerlines, and Internet connectivity: these are necessary to telemedicine,” said Sarmiento, on a webinar hosted by insurance firm Pru Life UK.
The official added that currently, 90% of telemedicine is still on visual. This, he said, is the “inherent limitation” of telemedicine.
However, Sarmiento said the Philippine government has policies related to telemedicine, one of which is FDA Circular 2020 which offers guidelines on “e-prescriptions.” There are also existing joint circulars among government agencies for Covid-19 along these lines, he said.
Sarmiento noted that the current Covid-19 pandemic is compelling the public sector to “move forward” with telemedicine.
On UHC, Sarmiento further added that telemedicine is the “glue” that will hold UHC together.
“We cannot talk about universal healthcare without telemedicine and role of interconnection, e-records, telemed apps, tele consultation, etc.,” Sarmiento said, adding that the National Telehealth Center is continuing to “work on this.”
To address data privacy, Sarmiento said healthcare providers “should put a premium on patient’s data protection.”
Pru Life UK, meanwhile, expressed its commitment to further invest on telemedicine and UHC.
Antonio “Jumbing” De Rosas, Pru Life Philippines president and CEO, said during this Covid-19 pandemic, “enabling access to telemedicine is important” to universal healthcare.
He noted that the pandemic is “putting stress to public funding on health care” and that insurance firms need “to fill in financing gaps.”
One of the ways for UHC, the executive said is “mobile health care services” which is suited for the Philippines, where a majority of the population has a smartphone or a mobile device.