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Remote healthcare: ‘second battlefield’ in the fight against Covid-19

As Covid-19 continues to spread, remote healthcare or telehealth becomes an effective supplement for people who seek medical treatment at this particular time. Remote healthcare can not only screen symptoms of respiratory illness and relieve pressure on healthcare facilities but also reduce hospital-acquired infections.

The trend of explosive growth in telehealth has been first seen in China. Since the outbreak, telehealth platforms in China, including Ping An Good Doctor, Dr Lilac, Dr Chunyu and Weihe Group have launched services such as online consultation and online drug purchase, alleviating the pressure of insufficient medical resources in hospitals and meeting the demands of quarantined people with medical needs in a timely manner.

At the same time, users’ queries on these online platforms have surged. For example, on the Dr Chunyu platform, queries about respiratory diseases increased almost six times and the total number of daily queries doubled from the average in 2019. Approximately half of the online consultation focused on determining whether patients’ symptoms are related to Covid-19, mask selection and wearing methods and maternal-related protective counselling.

In the US, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are encouraging medical facilities to leverage telemedicine technologies and self-assessment tools for patients. In fact, online platforms such as American Well have seen increases of visits and queries on respiratory symptoms during the past weeks. Furthermore, on March 4, an $8.3bn emergency funding bill was signed to help tackle the coronavirus outbreak in the US. A portion of the funding will be directed to help local officials and community health centres.

Medicare would relax the rule that restricts remote healthcare consultations, so sick people over the age of 65 could receive treatment without visiting a doctor. With favourable reimbursement policy, it can be expected that more patients in the US will choose online platforms for consultations on their medical issues.

In the past decade, telehealth was considered as one of the key trends in the development of the healthcare industry. However, the adoption rate of remote healthcare remains low. Lack of patients’ awareness of the concept is the most important reason for the slow adoption.

Patients are not aware of the option of communicating with doctors online, nor the benefits to virtual care. During the Covid-19 outbreak, patients’ awareness of remote healthcare has increased. By further reducing cost with broader reimbursement coverage, the market of remote healthcare will continue to grow.

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