GPs sign up to offer telemedicine care for those on home recovery

Several general practitioners (GPs) here have stepped up to provide telemedicine care for their patients placed on home recovery, easing the load of telemedicine providers stretched thin amid the surge in Covid-19 cases.

They added that doctors who are familiar with the patients can help allay their fears and offer more targeted medical advice, based on their understanding of the patients' medical history.

Dr Leong Choon Kit, a family physician at Mission Medical Clinic in Upper Serangoon Road, said that over 300 GP clinics have expressed their interest to provide telemedicine services for the home recovery programme.

Under his primary care network, 27 GPs signed up last week to provide round-the-clock tele-medicine care for their patients under home recovery.

Primary care networks are virtual groupings which allow doctors to pool resources and keep a closer eye on their patients.

In addition, these GPs can provide medical advice to patients in quarantine should they begin to develop any Covid-19 symptoms.

All doctors who sign up under the home recovery programme will have to undergo a mandatory telemedicine training course, he added.

"GPs are the foundation of our healthcare system. When people test positive for Covid-19 and start developing symptoms, many prefer to reach out to their GPs, whom they are familiar with, for advice and support," said Dr Leong.

He had just attended to his first Covid-19 patient under the home recovery programme, and the patient remains "quite well".

Other doctors said many of their patients had turned to them after having difficulty in contacting the Ministry of Health (MOH) or their telemedicine providers.

Dr Lee Joon Loong, medical director of Paddington Medical Clinic in Bedok, said his clinic has received several calls from patients who had tested positive in both their antigen rapid test and polymerase chain reaction test, but have not heard from MOH on what to do next.

His team has stepped up to advise them in the meantime, pending the official call from the approved telemedicine providers.

Since then, he has also expressed interest in joining the telemedicine home recovery programme.

Dr Kenneth Tan, a family physician at Kenneth Tan Medical Clinic in Punggol, said two of his patients on the home recovery programme have not received medication from their tele-medicine providers.

"If these patients were treated by their regular GPs instead, it would be easier to deliver medicine to them as the patients probably live close by," said Dr Tan, who has signed up for the home recovery programme.

Similarly, Dr Tan Teck Jack, chief executive of Northeast Medical Group, said he signed up for the programme as family doctors can play an important role in addressing the fears of Covid-19 patients, who would value reassurances from doctors who know them. He added that GPs are also able to pick up any signs of deterioration quickly.

However, Dr Kenneth Tan said that telemedicine alone may sometimes not be adequate in assessing if a patient's condition is worsening, and patients who are not tech-savvy may not reach out to their telemedicine provider for help.

Currently, Covid-19-positive patients who require in-person assessment of their condition have to go to accident and emergency (A&E) departments in hospitals, he noted.

According to MOH's website, those who are on home recovery should call an ambulance immediately if they experience worsening of any of these symptoms: shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, chest pains or pressure on the chest, and palpitations (fast beating of the heart).

Instead of making Covid-19 patients go directly to the A&E department when they have these symptoms, Dr Kenneth Tan suggested allowing GPs to conduct in-person assessments for certain groups of patients when necessary.

He said: "We have been seeing Covid-19 patients since the start of the pandemic, so we know the signs and symptoms of Covid-19 and the common complications, and we will be able to refer them appropriately for hospital care."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 02, 2021, with the headline 'GPs sign up to offer telemedicine care for those on home recovery'. Subscribe