Why It Matters

Right call with telemedicine

Video calls for medical purposes can save people a trip to the hospital, but setting up such a system can be fraught with technical issues.

Regular video call platforms lack the high security needed to safeguard sensitive patient information. Often, they also suffer from a lag or poor picture quality.

Higher-end systems, on the other hand, tend to require some investment in infrastructure and for both parties to be at fixed locations - meaning that patients may still have to travel a short distance for their consultations.

This is why the national video consultation system announced last week by the Integrated Health Information Systems could prove to be a game changer.

It allows people to log on with their computers in the comfort of their own homes, or even on the go using a smartphone application.

 
 

The system also makes use of two-factor authentication and end-to-end encryption - both of which are considered part of the recipe for secure communication online.

Six public healthcare institutions have agreed to join the project. More, including private ones, could come on board later.

With pilot projects beginning as far back as 2005, Singapore's telemedicine journey has come a long way - yet there is the sense that this is just the start of the journey.

Video call consultations are hardly mainstream now, but if the problem of Singapore's overcrowded hospitals and specialist outpatient clinics is to be solved, they will have to be.

That is not to say that the human touch is being forsaken. Video consultations will never replace a first visit to a doctor.

Rather, having a reliable virtual system in place to deal with less serious cases will hopefully mean more face time for the patients in the clinics, who often need it more.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 17, 2017, with the headline 'Right call with telemedicine'. Print Edition | Subscribe