Swiss healthcare firm bullish on growth of telemedicine in PH

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When the Covid-19 pandemic put a sudden halt to clinic and hospital visits, healthcare firm Medgate Philippines knew that this development had serious consequences for the local healthcare sector.

“Despite ECQ being relaxed into GCQ, we have found that the fear of going to clinics and hospitals persists with many people deferring medical care to a later time. This is a real problem because we know that early intervention reduces morbidity and mortality,” Ronald Estrella, Medgate Philippines country manager, said during a virtual roundtable last June 10.

But with telemedicine services, patients do not need to put off consulting with a doctor, according to the local branch of the Swiss telemedicine giant Medgate.

The company saw a 170-percent jump in the usage of its services in 2020, eventually leading to a total patient base of 1.5 million.

More importantly, 80 percent of the cases taken by Medgate were resolved solely through consultations with a doctor. In these consultations, the company employed a medical co-management approach where licensed doctors with multiple specializations consulted on a single case.

This policy where sharing of knowledge is encouraged contributed to the high treatment rate, the company said.

With the effectiveness of the telemedicine proven during the Covid-19 crises, Medgate Philippines and its partners are confident that telemedicine’s usefulness will extend far beyond the effects of the pandemic.

“There are many things that telemedicine is appropriate for and it can help in the healthcare system. It’s a question of really finding those niches where we can come in and help out,” stated Estrella.

“We’re certainly not here to replace face to face. We are here to augment and establish synergies with the face-to-face set-up you have with more traditional healthcare.”

According to the Philippine Medical Association, there are only 40,000 active medical doctors (MDs) serving 100 million Filipinos as of 2020. The shortage of doctors in the country means that not all patients can receive care when and where they need it.

Telemedicine can minimize the impact of the shortage of MDs by providing treatment for cases that do not need to be referred to a clinic, hospital, or emergency room, said Medgate.

Additionally, by doing so, it can decongest hospitals so that these facilities can focus their resources on patients that require tertiary care.

“The past year and a half has challenged our healthcare systems in unimaginable ways, while also changing the way many Filipino patients get treated. Throughout all that, telehealth services have proven to be a prime complement to traditional healthcare,” Medgate Philippines president Stavros Athanasiou said.

Telemedicine has the potential to improve the country’s unequal healthcare system.

“In the healthcare landscape, telemedicine will probably be the great equalizer. It will not make a distinction whether the caller is rich or poor, whether the caller is from the rural area, the boondocks, or in the cities. It doesn’t matter what time of day because it’s 24/7. So, if you have something that gives you access and is very affordable, then you actually allow more and more Filipinos to have equality of healthcare that they deserve,” said Mario Silus, chairman of Intellicare, one of Medgate Philippines’ partners.

Medgate said the demand for telemedicine is rising. While most of its patient base is in Metro Manila, the company now also serves patients in Bacolod, Cebu, Iloilo, and Davao.

Advances in technology are only furthering this growth. Medgate said it is improving the delivery of its services by implementing an Artificial Intelligence (AI)-powered chatbot. This AI chatbot is already being used to efficiently triage patients in Switzerland and it will be rolled out in Medgate Philippines as early as the fourth quarter of 2021.

Another technology development that will contribute to the growth of the telemedicine industry is the advent of 5G broadband in the country. High resolution video will let patients better interact with their doctors and thus, enhance their telemedicine experiences, the company said.

Lastly, the increasing popularity of wearables, especially those with the ability to capture body temperature, blood pressure, and even blood sugar is expected to usher in a new wave of customers.