SINGAPORE - Getting his rashes treated in a day at Hougang Polyclinic last week saved Mr Ron Chua "a lot of time and effort".
Instead of having to make a separate trip to the National Skin Centre (NSC) after being referred there by the polyclinic doctor, the 23-year-old university student received a consultation from a dermatologist at the skin centre over the Internet at the polyclinic itself .
"I thought it was quite convenient as I didn't have to make another trip there (National Skin Centre) on another day," said Mr Chua.
The e-consult service called Tele-Derm was launched at Hougang Polyclinic in January last year and rolled out to the eight other National Healthcare Group polyclinics by December the same year.
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Patients with less complex and non-urgent skin conditions such as eczema, acne or urticaria have been able to access specialist dermatological care at polyclinics, thanks to the joint initiative by the National Skin Centre and National Healthcare Group Polyclinics (NHGP).
The e-consult service enables NHGP family doctors with training in family practice dermatology to refer patients for the service, with doctors discussing skin care treatment with National Skin Centre dermatologists via the Web-based platform.
Patients' case notes, their medical history and high-resolution images of their skin condition are uploaded onto the secure online platform. The skin centre's dermatologist then assesses the case, and messages his or her diagnosis to the polyclinic doctor through the platform.
The consultation process between doctors takes about half an hour.
"Tele-Derm makes specialist skin consultation more accessible in the community and... brings about greater convenience to patients for treatment and follow-up, and also frees clinic appointment slots at the National Skin Centre for patients with more severe and complex conditions," said Associate Professor Prof Tan Suat Hoon, director of the centre.
Some 174 cases have been referred to the NSC specialists via Tele-Derm.
The waiting time for patients with non-urgent cases to visit a specialist at the skin centre has been reduced to about 40 days, added Prof Tan. This number is about half the waiting time last year.
About 300 appointment slots at the NSC have been freed up from January last year to April this year, said Prof Tan.
The service was also expanded to in-patients at the Institute of Mental Health last November. About 80 patients have used the service so far.
Efforts to ramp up such telemedicine services have been building up steam in recent months, with a new national video conferencing system for medical consultations launched in April.
Six public healthcare institutions - KK Women's and Children's Hospital, Tan Tock Seng Hospital, Singapore General Hospital, National University Hospital, Institute of Mental Health and National University Cancer Institute, Singapore - were the first to use it.
The system is part of the Smart Health initiative under the broader Smart Nation drive, which is spearheaded by the Integrated Health Information Systems (IHiS), the national technology agency for healthcare.