Most people are aware of telemedicine in Singapore but don't know much about it. There exists a lot of uncertainty and trust issues surrounding its use. This is understandable, but unwarranted. This blog post describes how online consultations fit into the Singapore healthcare landscape, and what the government is doing to promote this process that improves access to healthcare.
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Whenever I tell someone that RingMD empowers people to speak to a doctor online from anywhere, and offers an instant call service to General Practitioners (GPs) in Singapore, people usually ask me in a curious tone “Oh really? Can you do that? How does it work?” After explaining the services to them, their concerns typically boil down to the following three issues:
- Trust - How much can the doctor find out about me through a video call? How accurate will the diagnosis be? Are the services or the doctors or the drugs legitimate?
- Social norm/ habit - Nobody else uses it, so why should I? I’m fine with visiting a doctor in person. I've been doing it my whole life.
- Relationships - I have a strong connection with my family doctor, so I want to visit them.
Habits and relationship barriers can only be addressed once people begin to trust the service. So we will be focusing on the first issue, mainly looking at why there is a lack of trust in virtual care, and why there should not be. Doctors and wellness experts can indeed utilize technology to provide safe and high-quality primary care services.
When should I trust telemedicine?
Most Singaporeans are used to having a doctor perform physical checks on them when they are sick. As a result of that, we feel uneasy with the concept of an online doctor giving us a diagnosis without performing these checks. While physical examinations are important for the diagnosis of certain diseases, common reasons for a GP visit such as the flu, sore throat, cough etc. can be diagnosed accurately without performing physical tests.
Virtual care is not meant to replace primary care. As mentioned above, there are conditions where a patient should visit a GP in person in order to get the appropriate tests done. But it can address a large majority of the conditions that people visit a GP for.
In 2014, Ministry of Health (MOH) conducted a survey and found that 65% of all GP visits are for acute, likely self-limiting (i.e. can recover on its own), conditions. The vast majority of the time, when we visit a doctor, it is because we either want a prescription drug for symptomatic relief, or we want a medical certificate to rest at home. These conditions can be handled much more efficiently over telemedicine.
With that being said, it is important for patients to understand the situations that are suitable for online consultations, and situations where they should visit a doctor in person. Virtual care service providers can help patients to identify these situations by clearly listing the conditions that are suitable for their services (The conditions suitable for RingMD’s Instant Call service can be found here).
On top of that, providers should have a protocol for handling patients who report having symptoms that might require further investigation. And for patients who only report mild symptoms, the doctors should advise patients on how to monitor their conditions following the consultation (e.g. letting a patient know that if his fever worsens or he starts to experience any new symptoms such as chest or joint pains, he should visit the nearest GP in person for further investigation).
What are the legalities associated with digital healthcare in Singapore?
At the time of writing, there are 2 main guidelines. The National Telemedicine Guidelines (NTG), which is an initiative by MOH, and the Singapore Medical Council (SMC) Ethical Code and Ethical Guidelines. Due to the evolving needs of an aging population and as part of the government’s smart nation initiative, the MOH is adopting a supportive stance towards online consultation technologies.
Compared to other countries, Singapore’s MOH has made great efforts to guide companies contributing to virtual care. The NTG is a detailed guide that helps service providers ensure the safety, quality, and propriety of their services.
Although there have yet to be any binding legal regulations, all doctors in Singapore must adhere to strict ethical and professional standards in order to be licensed by the SMC. These requirements prevent online consultation providers from offering services that do not comply with the standards set forth by the SMC.
Given the speed at which Singapore ministries operate, we can definitely expect more defined legal regulations for digital health service providers very soon.
Virtual care in Singapore?
It is definitely here to stay. The uptake from patients will surely increase over time as people become more comfortable with its use. As with any other healthcare service, patients should ensure that the provider has a robust operating protocol to ensure their safety.
Here are some quick tips on how to judge an online healthcare provider:
Make sure that their doctors are licensed to practice in Singapore.
They should have a registration process where they collect your personal information so that they can keep a proper medical record for you.
They should clearly state the applicable use cases for their services.
They should have a process for collecting feedback from patients.
You should easily be able to access your consultation history on the platform.
This may seem daunting: a lot of information has been sent your way. The bottom line is that online consultations are always an option you can turn to for convenient medical advice. Furthermore, most common acute conditions can be determined through online consultations.
An experienced licensed doctor is typically quickly able to determine the severity of your condition just from speaking with you: whether that be in person or through a video consultation.
If your condition is serious, or further physical examination is required, our doctors will tell you what to do to get appropriate care. Consulting a doctor online is a convenient first line of defense that will likely help your acute condition, and if it can’t, it’ll point you in the right direction to deal with it effectively.
You have a lot of things going on in your life, don’t waste time traveling to the clinic or hospital and waiting if you don’t have to.
RingMD is open to answering any questions from patients who want to know more about how telemedicine services work, and we can be contacted easily via our website. Don’t hesitate to contact us.
Speak with a doctor online on RingMD. Why leave home to find a doctor if you don't have to? Can you have a doctor appointment online? Yes, consult a doctor online, right now! When appropriate, the doctor is able to provide you with a signed Medical Certificate (MC) if they believe you need one for work or school reasons.
We're also focusing on increasing access to mental health care. If you're thinking "I need a therapist near me" but dont know where to start, try the RingMD therapist directory. We will help you find the right therapist for YOU!
If you're a doctor or wellness expert considering offering virtual care services, here are some arguments to consider.