Many issues with medical consultations via video

Associate Professor Low Cheng Ooi, who is chief clinical informatics officer at Integrated Health Information Systems, Singapore's healthcare technology agency, rightly stressed that medical consultations through video calls should be used cautiously (Video consultations rolled out to cut hospital trips; April 13).

Even though leveraging technology is worth exploring, I am sceptical that a patient with health issues can describe his condition accurately via video, unless he is a medical practitioner himself.

How is it possible for a doctor to give a systematic and rigorous assessment of a patient's condition with only a video image?

The assessment can be affected by external factors like bad Internet connection, poor video quality or even a sudden power outage.

There are a few other issues the authorities should address:

•If the health condition of a patient deemed suitable for video consultation suddenly worsens in the midst of the call, will the hospital authority be held liable? How is the patient's well-being protected in such a scenario?

•If the Internet connection is disrupted over a prolonged period while the video consultation is in progress, and the patient suffers an unexpected life-threatening condition during this period, whose responsibility is it and can the public health institution be held accountable for not being more prudent in caring for its patients?

•What percentage of patients will benefit from this scheme, considering the financial resources and effort put in to implement it? It would not be useful if a substantial percentage of patients are elderly and perhaps not technology savvy or without an Internet connection at home.

•If two patients want to see a particular doctor at the same time, with one making a trip to the hospital and the other preferring a video consultation, which patient gets higher priority?

I believe that medical treatment should still be carried out by doctors through face-to-face interaction.

If public health institutions are facing manpower and space shortages, then the authorities should look at the remuneration package for healthcare professionals, maximise space usage in hospitals or even set up affiliated clinics at the void decks of public housing blocks to bring medical help closer to the masses.

Gabriel Cheng Kian Tiong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 17, 2017, with the headline 'Many issues with medical consultations via video'. Print Edition | Subscribe