Metro Pacific hospitals explore telemedicine, remote patient care

(The Philippine Star) - July 12, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Metro Pacific Hospital Holdings Inc. (MPHHI) is stepping up its efforts to find a “new normal” solution so that its member hospitals can resume full services to patients, while keeping hospital foot traffic to a safe minimum.

The group is introducing virtual consultation, as well as other services like e-pharmacy, mobile laboratories, remote patient monitoring and continuity of care beyond the hospital room.

Previously considered as a means to provide health care for remote and therefore underserved locations, telemedicine is now viewed as a way to cope amid an overwhelmed healthcare system dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The country’s healthcare system faces unprecedented challenges because of the ongoing pandemic, caused by a virus that is unfamiliar, and seems easily transmitted,” said Metro Pacific Investment Corp. (MPIC) chairman Manuel V. Pangilinan when he designated Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital (OLLH) as the group’s main COVID referral facility in March.

Three months into the COVID-19 pandemic, MPHHI is now seriously looking at tapping modern information and communication technologies to virtually connect medical professionals with patients in lieu of actual physical meet-ups in hospitals or clinics.

“MPHHI believes that using telemedicine and remote patient monitoring for management of chronic diseases can minimize, though not totally prevent, physical visits of patients to healthcare facilities,” said Eriene Lao, chief information officer of MPHHI.

Lao revealed that some hospitals in the group have already deployed telemedicine solutions for virtual consultation, but noted that these solutions were mainly developed in-house.

As a group initiative, she said, MPHHI is in the process of selecting the most feasible solution that will serve as a common platform for the MPHHI hospitals.

“Telemedicine may be our new normal,” said Lao. “It augments the delivery of primary health care most especially in our country, where the doctor-to-patient ratio is a challenge.”

She acknowledged that telemedicine, literally meaning “healing at a distance”, could hold the promise of safely delivering patient-centered care in this pandemic era, with its advantages.

Lao explained that telemedicine, and remote patient monitoring, could allow for earlier management of chronic diseases, while minimizing the need for patients to leave home, if not critically necessary.

“We feel there are also operational benefits here,” she said. “Hospitals can optimize the utilization of their bed capacity, improve the efficiency of healthcare workers, allow collaboration of medical teams from across different hospitals, and give remote hospitals access to more experienced medical practitioners in the bigger hospitals.”

But Lao cautioned that while the new normal following the pandemic may see patients being encouraged to consult doctors through telemedicine, face-to-face interaction between a doctor and a patient still retains considerable importance.

For now, she said, physicians at the MPHHI hospital group are strongly advised to observe safety protocols such as limiting patients to five daily, observing physical distancing, wearing personal protective equipment, and changing gowns after every other patient.

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