After years of not being given much attention, telehealth is now gaining ground in the Philippines as people become wary of visiting hospitals and clinics due to risks of contracting or spreading the COVID-19 virus.
KonsultaMD, a 24/7 subscription-based telehealth service, registered a 450% jump in the number of consultations in April as compared to January this year. This indicates that Filipinos are becoming more willing to talk to a medical practitioner over the phone or through video call today instead of doing face-to-face consultations.
“Telehealth has been in the Philippines for many years but people are usually reluctant to try it because it is not something that they are used to. It is only recently that they are realizing that consultation over the phone or via mobile app is actually convenient, easy, affordable and secure,” said Glenn Estrella, Operating Advisor for KonsultaMD.
KonsultaMD is composed of licensed Filipino doctors who give advice on primary care, first-aid, health and wellness, nutrition, mental health, and even provide prescriptions and interpretation of lab results. These services are delivered via calls to the hotline - 78880 via Globe/TM mobile phone or (02) 77988000 via landline or through the KonsultaMD mobile app which allows video consultation.
In a recent white paper Digital: The Filipinos Flag of Freedom released by digital and mobile advertising firm AdSpark, online conversations regarding telehealth and online medication consultations reached its peak during the start of the enhanced community quarantine in March and have been steadily talked about since then.
“Another essential for Filipinos is healthcare needs. Just because health clinics and hospitals are predominantly used for testing and treating COVID-19 patients, doesn't mean the attention needed for non-COVID health concerns just disappeared. Despite facing the insurmountable task to shift a very traditional face-to-face practice such as consulting and diagnosing, Filipino healthcare workers were able to utilize digital channels to improve their reach through services like telehealth,” according to the research.
Mika, one of the mothers interviewed by AdSpark and who is currently raising her 3-month old daughter, mentioned that she has to delay getting the newborn vaccines for her baby because of the fear of visiting hospitals. She decided that the only time she will ever bring her baby to the hospital is for the vaccine shots, not even for monthly baby check-ups.
"I am very lucky because my pediatrician is my friend, so she is always accessible through Viber. My friends who are also moms mostly consult through telehealth services or Zoom calls with their pediatricians to avoid ever setting foot in a hospital," she said.
This contactless approach to health services is endorsed by the Department of Health (DOH) as a way to relieve hospitals of non-critical cases and prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus, especially among vulnerable members of society.
In fact, DOH earlier tapped KonsultaMD and other telehealth providers to help augment the DOH hotlines for a limited time by providing free telemedicine advice to individuals who need non-emergency medical assistance. Thirty doctors who have volunteered in the DOH Healthcare Warrior Program also lent their services to KonsultaMD last month.
DOH, together with the National Privacy Commission (NPC) has also released a joint memorandum circular recognizing the use of telemedicine in responding to the COVID-19 crisis and encourages traditional healthcare providers to adopt the practice in situations such as the current national emergency where quarantine protocols are in place.
KonsultaMD is operated by Global Telehealth, Inc., a joint venture of 917Ventures, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Globe, and Mexico’s Salud Interactiva. Adspark is also a portfolio company under 917Ventures, the largest corporate incubator in the Philippines.