Coronavirus: Public can pose health questions to volunteer doctors on online forum

Online platform AskDr aims to provide the public a free, easily accessible platform where they can go to ask questions about Covid-19 and other health issues. PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM ASKDR.CO

SINGAPORE - Could you have Covid-19 despite not having a fever? How does the coronavirus affect pregnant women? And should you keep your home at a higher temperature to fight the virus?

These are just some of the questions that members of the public have asked on online platform AskDr.

The website, which was launched last month and taps volunteer doctors, aims to provide the public a free, easily accessible platform where they can go to ask questions about Covid-19 and other health issues.

Its founder, Mr Brian Toh, 28, told The Straits Times on Monday (March 30) that he had planned to launch the site around May this year, but decided to push the launch date earlier in response to the escalating health crisis.

"The main aim was to give people access to reliable medical information, and we thought the best way was to connect them with the medical professionals on our platform," he said.

Questions posted by users can be answered by fellow users, as well as a pool of volunteer medical professionals.

Depending on the question and the availability of doctors, queries may be addressed within the same day, or may take at most three days to be answered.

Mr Toh said that doctors must upload their certification from the Singapore Medical Council, as well as their medical licence, before they are given a "verified" status on the website.

To ensure that the information provided is of good quality, the doctors are able to "upvote" and recommend the responses of their peers and other users, with an algorithm helping to push the best answers to the top of the page.

Users are also able to flag comments or profiles for review if they suspect something is amiss.

Mr Toh said there are currently nine doctors and one dentist fielding questions on the site, though he is trying to get more on board to cope with the anticipated higher load of questions as word about the forum gets out.

He added: "We've seen how bad the coronavirus crisis is. We're seeing that it's exacerbated by misinformation, and that's a very dangerous thing. It could cause wrong practices to spread, and disproportionate amounts of panic and paranoia.

"We're trying to give the public access to information, and help government bodies get information to parties that they normally would not have been able to...

"Government bodies and healthcare providers don't really have that ability to penetrate social media; this requires a ground-up approach."

One of the doctors on the platform, Dr Dinesh Visva Gunasekeran, 28, said that since the start of the Covid-19 outbreak, many patients have asked him about topics such as usage of masks and travel advisories, as well as more potentially dangerous issues such as "vaccines" and "cures" for the disease.

"Some of them came across news articles talking about turmeric as a potential treatment for Covid-19," said the part-time general practitioner at Raffles Medical Group, adding that AskDr provides a platform where healthcare professionals like himself can address such misinformation.

He added: "Fake news dilutes information that's put out, and people may end up wasting resources, taking medication that's not safe, and worsen the situation. We don't want to flood healthcare services with unnecessary questions."

Those who wish to have their questions answered, as well as doctors who would like to volunteer to answer questions, may sign up at AskDr's site.

A team of around 30 medical students from across the world is also putting out a message online on the fight against the coronavirus.

The students have put together a short video and a statement in several different languages appealing for youth to stay home and practise social distancing.

In the almost three-minute video, the students said: "Covid-19 has already claimed its youngest victim at under 18 years old. You are vulnerable, and so are your loved ones... it's not too late to turn the tide on this virus. Stay at home and practise social distancing where possible.

"But we surely can't do this alone; we appeal for you to take action with us. Otherwise, even washing hands and wearing masks will never be enough."


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