S'pore GPs stepping up to provide telemedicine care for Covid-19 patients on home recovery

Family physician Kenneth Tan, seen here at his clinic in Punggol, has signed up to provide telemedicine services for the home recovery programme. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

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

They added 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 Serangoon, told The Straits Times 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 telemedicine 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 developing 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 finding difficulty in contacting the Ministry of Health 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 they should 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, told ST that two of his patients on the home recovery programme have not yet received medicine from their telemedicine 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 and worries 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 be assessed in hospital accident and emergency (A&E) departments, 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 Tan suggested allowing GPs to conduct in-person assessments for certain groups of patients when necessary.

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

Join ST's WhatsApp Channel and get the latest news and must-reads.