Online medical consultations spike as OPDs remain shut in lockdown



The lockdown has seen a spike in online medical consultations with the out-patient department (OPD) in hospitals shut. People have been making use of various platforms other than phonecalls to consult doctors regarding general health issues.

For example, Raj Bhattarai from Pokhara was suffering a pain in his leg and could not visit a hospital. But he was able to treat himself at home by consulting a doctor over the phone.

Bhattarai said, “I found an online health consultation service of NepMeds on Facebook and dialed its hotline number. I described my leg pain over the phone at around 11:00 am. At around 5:00 pm, I got a call back from Dr Suyesh Karki. As per the doctor’s suggestion I took a painkiller and vitamin. I have recovered and am happy with the direct consultation from a doctor for free.”

Same is the case of Pradip Parajuli, youth in-charge at SOS Yuwalaya, who texted a doctor from Doctor On Call via Whats-app for medical emergency regarding two of his students. He received the needed help and his students are well now.

Dr Suyesh Karki, Director of Doctor On Call, is witnessing an increasing number of health inquiry and service through phone calls and social media platforms like Viber and Facebook. “We used to provide health service going on house calls for patients who have difficulty in reaching the hospital. We used to receive 50 calls per day on an average, and mostly the enquiries were either about our service or for chronic disease. Now, we are receiving around 100 calls a day even for general health issues like simple headache, stomache, and common cold.”

As per Sudip Ale Magar, Public Health Officer at Primary Health Care Revitalisation Division of Department of Health Services, the number of normal patients consulting online for follow-up has increased as OPDs of many hospitals are closed. “For follow-ups people can directly call their regular doctor via phone. Those who face new health issues can access health consultations provided by different health institutions like phone consultation by Nepal Medical Association (NMA), Hello Doctor by Gandaki Province, among others,” he informs.

The medical officers and general practitioners (GP) at Doctor On Call are continuing home treatment service, while consultants have started giving online health counselling. “Through online or phone consultations, we can provide general service to solve health issues by suggesting, referring, and recommending medicines according to the problems. For critical cases, we need to refer them to specialised doctors. So, consultations over the phone are limiting. We do what a GP does in hospitals at the first level,” shared Dr Karki.

NepMeds Nepal is connecting their doctors with the public through Whatsapp and phone calls. Anil Rudra Dahal, Operation Manager of NepMeds said, “Since the lockdown, health inquiries have gone up four times due to which we have started free online health consultations on both our hotline and landline. We have direct tie-up with 16 doctors of different fields and also have 40 other doctors in contact. We pass the patient’s call to the related consultant doctor. We are coming up with Online Doctor Consultation app.”

In order to check whether doctors provided genuine consultation or not to the patients, NepMeds also practises tracking of doctors and patients.

Star Hospital has also started teleconsultation service through which patients can consult related doctors at the hospital through video conferencing.

“The medical records and prescriptions of patients are maintained properly in the service. So the consultation is more effective than consultations through Viber or Messenger,” said Dr Prakash Regmi, Senior Consultant Cardiologist at the hospital.

The patients are required to make an online payment of Rs 200 for the service.

Ale Magar informed that patients can dial the toll free number of Hello Doctor — 1092 for medical consultation. Likewise, NMA is also providing a list of different specialised doctors’ phone numbers and appointment schedule on its facebook page.

A version of this article appears in e-paper on May 9, 2020, of The Himalayan Times.

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