TELEMEDICINE AND HUMAN TOUCH
- Posted by: ainurfarish7
- Category: Telemedicine
Covid-19 pandemic has turned the world upside down. At the time of writing, the coronavirus crisis had surpassed 60 million confirmed cases globally, affecting 218 countries and territories around the world, with almost 1.5 million deaths. Malaysia is heading towards 68,000 cases with more than 300 deaths and ranked 82nd globally. It is a challenge as it is not only a health crisis, but Covid-19 also disrupts social stability, economic prosperity and business revenues. As for KPJ Healthcare Berhad, the enforcement of the MCO (Movement Control Order) following Covid-19 outbreak on March 18, 2020 had resulted a decrease in patient numbers and BOR (bed occupancy rate), especially in April and May 2020, with 25% and 32% respectively. This pandemic gave a fresh impetus for the healthcare industry to advocate telemedicine other than remain active in providing core services. Other than that, since Malaysia wants to expand the medical tourism sphere, facilitating telemedicine program is a great potential.
Telemedicine, according to Brown (1995) is the use of electronic information to communicate technologies to provide and support healthcare when distance separates the participants. It provides a virtual environment that allows for assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of conditions remotely; without the patients being physically present. During Covid-19 pandemic, the medical operating protocols have been largely modified to reduce contamination risk, to provide a safe working environment for healthcare workers and making the patient to feel safe. Therefore, it is pertinent for telemedicine to take place now more than ever and start playing a bigger role. Almost 90% of the organization in the US has already began developing and implementing this telemedicine program as it proves to help lower the healthcare costs, increases revenues and provides patient a better access to the service.
Then, how about incorporating human touch with telemedicine? Human touch or physical examination is a core element in medical practice. Human touch is a friendly, pleasant way of treating people which emphasizes on caring and compassion over friendliness. This critical role of the human touch by healthcare practitioners, particularly in times of Covid-19 crisis, is something to ponder. Certainly, those who at high risk of contracting this Covid-19 are our frontline healthcare workers. In order to curb the spread of the disease, SOPs (Standard Operating Procedure) were created including a certain hospital require patients to do Covid-19 testing either Antigen Rapid Test Kit (RTK-Ag) or reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) prior to see a doctor. These SOPs are definitely troublesome; causing hassle and inconvenience to a patient.
Convenience is the key in today’s healthcare world, and telemedicine has the advantage. 74% of patients prefer easy access to health care services over in-person interactions with healthcare providers according to recent Cisco global survey. Telemedicine emerged as a critical tool in providing continuous medical care to patients while attempting to reduce the transmission of Covid-19amongst other patients, clinicians and families. Telemedicine avoids direct physical contact, thus reducing the exposure to respiratory secretions. As during this pandemic, physical distancing helps delimit the spread by breaking the chain of transmission, therefore, human touch is not about physical presence, but how to develop a sense of deeper trust and a stronger connection between the patient and the physician. This idea in turn will increase a sense of empowerment as well as intimacy that is central to patient health, well-being, and recovery. According to Nina (2018), intimacy can be mediated through a screen and physical appearance is not as important to the patient as other things. The study also pointed out the patient feels that video consultations allowed them to be free and active; despite their illness.
Human touch in telemedicine requires skills and emotional intelligence. It is an art attracting different traits of people. Virtual communication between patient and physician is not about tactile actions but emotions shown through behaviours, actions, and words as in interactive face to face communication. Some doctors are inherently gifted in their ability to feel their way to patients’ heart, some still need to practise and polish their skills. Thinking medicine as art, rather than a method set in stone, it is malleable, changing with interpretation and need. As humans, we are biologically wired to prefer routine, but in our nation’s increasingly tech-driven health system, it is important to learn how to maintain a personal touch virtually as human touch comfort patients.
During this pandemic, telemedicine has not only allowed relieving the enormous workload partially from the workers in the hospitals, protect patients and health care workers from exposure to the virus, but has also made possible that a Covid-19–positive asymptomatic physician in quarantine to continue providing health care services. Despite all that, telemedicine however cannot be applied for all clinical scenarios. It remains only a synergistic extension of the care team. Healthcare providers are pushed to work harder, innovate faster, collaborate, and be resilient at an unprecedented pace for the pandemic. Continuous learning on how to best deploy virtual solutions is vital to improve patients care. With the help of technology, the best care possible for the body, mind and spirit could be manage. And it’s up to us to learn and teach others how to use these new technologies appropriately while protecting our precious humanity.
Dr. Aidilnurul Fareena binti Ishak
Medical Officer, KPJ Bandar Dato’ Onn Specialist Hospital
Brown FW. A Survey of Telepsychiatry in the USA. Journal of Telemedicine and Telecare. 1995;1:19–21
Nina PC. Use of Video Consultations for Patients With Hematological Diseases From a Patient Perspective: Qualitative Study. 2018; J. Participmed