More patients will now be able to consult their doctors from their smartphones or personal computers, after the launch of the new national video conferencing system for medical consultations in six public healthcare institutions yesterday.

While video consultations have already been available at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH), the Institute of Mental Health (IMH), Singapore General Hospital (SGH) and Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH) since November last year, they were limited to selected services. From mid-2017 however, the platform will be expanded and used at the National University Hospital as well as the National University Cancer Institute.

Video consultations brings healthcare into homes

The new video conferencing system is a cloud-based platform which allows for multi-party video conferencing, file sharing as well as display of medical reports and images. The system implements end-to-end encryption for each video session and uses two-factor authentication for security measures.

The platform is launched as part of the Smart Health initiative under the Smart Nation drive by the Integrated Healthcare Information System (IHiS), the national technology agency for healthcare.

"Cases are getting more complex as our population ages," said Chua Chee Yong, director of the planning group at IHiS. "At the same time, our physical and manpower resources are also stretched. We need to find effective ways to use our limited resources."

"We see telehealth technology as an opportunity to better serve our patients, support collaborations between healthcare professionals across locations, and improve overall productivity of our system," added IHiS chief executive, Bruce Liang.

“It brings care into home, enables patients to rest at home and reduces caregiver absence from work,” added Liang, who is also the chief information officer at the Health Ministry.

Easy accessibility to medical advice via video consultations will also allow patients to receive more timely care, and save patients, particularly those with mobility issues, from having to travel to-and-fro nursing homes or health facilities. Additionally, the limited need for travel can inadvertently reduce the number of people exposed to communicable diseases during an outbreak or pandemic, Liang explained.

Telehealth services may expand in the future

According to Associate Professor Low Cheng Ooi, chief clinical informatics officer of IHiS, the platform will allow healthcare professionals to “monitor patients more regularly than traditional face-to-face appointments.”

Dr Mark Koh, the head of KKH’s dermatology service, says that the video consultations will suit roughly 40 out of the 200 eczema patient whom he sees in a week. “It replaces a follow-up appointment with the doctor and saves an extra visit, especially the eczema is well controlled,” he said.

However, only selected patients will be given the option of following-up with their doctors via a second video call.

“This is new, so we are moving cautiously… you do need a clinical assessment that involves face-to-face (interaction),” Low explained. “We can’t just throw away the stethoscope and replace it with a camera.”

The services that are provided through video calls depend on each institution. For instance, SGH will focus on speech therapy, while IMH will offer services for psychiatric counseling and KKH will provide services for breastfeeding consultations, pharmacy follow-up as well as home care for children.

However, the list of services may expand, and more health institutions, including private ones, could come on board in the future. MIMS

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