Telemedicine in Malaysia – coming of age
Telemedicine is something quite new to Malaysians in general, and for both patients as well as doctors. But in this modern era of fast broadband and mobiles, imagine if you could consult with your doctor wherever you are, perhaps from the convenience of your home. You might prefer this rather than having to beat traffic jams, finding a parking spot in busy hospitals or clinics and having to put up with long waits at the doctor’s office.
Telemedicine would also be particularly useful for homebound patients, if you are unable to travel to the clinic/hospital or if perhaps you might be overseas and urgently need to speak with your doctor.
Some might be hesitant using this technology but modern Telemedicine allows you to consult with your doctor Face to Face, just like you would with a real visit to your doctor. While the doctor cannot examine you, real time face to face consultation is the next best thing and careful history can elucidate a lot of information and visual cues also play an important part in the clinical assessment. For doctors, this is far better than taking phone calls from patients which is inadvisable since there is no proper identification of the caller and no record of the consultation. In the same light, consultation via text and email are also not advisable.
What are the options Malaysian patients and doctors have today? We have come across three Telemedicine platforms that are available right now, two of them are already functional and the third still in beta but looks promising.
RingMD is a regional startup (it began in Singapore but is now available to Malaysians) which brings Telemedicine to you via Web and also iOS and Android Apps. Video consultations are encrypted end to end, patients can securely text their doctors and doctors can make clinical notes and also prescribe medication.
Sign up is free. There is no subscription and patients only pay per consultation. Patient setup an appointment for Teleconsultation with the doctor of their choice and there are reminders via email and SMS when the appointment time is due. A “Ring Now” feature for specific doctors is coming. While doctors can prescribe, patients have to fill out the prescription themselves at their local pharmacy. Texting between patients and doctors allow sending attachments like PDFs.
U2Doc is a Malaysian Telemdicine venture which works in the same way but requires a compatible browser (currently only Chrome and Firefox, and for mobile browser only Android but not iOS). There are no native apps for mobiles or tablets.
Patients also set appointments for Teleconsultation. We find that the interface is rather complex and patients may have difficulties navigating the site.
Like RingMD, sign up is free. There is no subscription and patients only pay per consultation. Doctors however are expected to purchase “airtime” in order to use the system and this may not prove popular in the long run with doctors.
Teleme is a new Malaysian startup which offers web based Teleconsultation. There are currently no mobile app options for Teleme. We however find the design neater than U2Doc and it is easier to use. It is still in beta though so do expect some early bugs and quirks but the platform is now accepting signups from patients and doctors. One nice feature about Teleme is that they have a tie up with pharmacies and prescribed medicines can be delivered to your doorstep if you wish.
Like the others, signup is free, there is no subscription – patients only pay per consultation. The system allows doctors to provide patients with a code for free trials.
While Malaysia has a Telemedicine Act (1997), this Act has yet to be enforced. Practitioners nonetheless are advised to take a Telemedicine consent from patients so that patients understand the nature and limitations of this platform. If there are still any misgivings, with proper consent, a Face to Face Teleconsultation is far and away better than doctors engaging in phone consultations!
For doctors, the best practice is still to engage in Teleconsultation with existing patients whom they have already seen in their clinics.
Telemedicine is at the cutting edge of modern medical practice. It allows doctors to extend their service and availability to their patients beyond the physical office. For non-ambulatory patients it could be a boon for a doctor to virtually make a home visit and it could make a big difference to things like diabetic and blood pressure control for home bound patients.
Will it take off in Malaysia? I think in time it will. Once patients and doctors see the benefits, Telemedicine is a no-brainer
What Are the Benefits and Advantages of Telemedicine?
Malaysian doctors may also join the discussion the Telehealth section of the Dobbs Forums.