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AI-Assisted Teleconsultation to be Rolled Out in The Philippines

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While public hospital doctors and nurses are highly proficient in the country, public healthcare in the Philippines has significant drawbacks. Despite having achieved universal healthcare, the Philippines still struggles with unequal access to medical care, especially in the telemedicine sector. A study indicated, as of 2019, the doctor-to-patient ratio in the Philippines was 1:33,000 – significantly worse than the global average of 1:6,600.

The advent of the COVID-19 pandemic definitely overwhelmed the country’s healthcare system with the deluge of patients suffering from Covid-19 confined at many hospitals and other medical facilities. However, it also forced those with other ailments to take a back seat, particularly in terms of face-to-face consultationS with their doctors at hospitals or even clinics, for fear of contracting the disease.

A Philippine leading international provider of telemedicine is integrating artificial intelligence (AI) into its telemedicine platform and is seeing a lot of success. The local platform saw its number of consultations jump to at least 500 calls per day this year from 100 calls per day in 2019, leading to a total patient base of 1.5 million.

The chatbot-like system allows patients to self-triage and accounts for risk factors such as allergies and age. In this case, the developed AI device helps determine whether a patient should have a teleconsultation, or go to a clinic, or to an emergency room. The process goes by first, inserting information on the patient’s symptoms in the platform; then, it goes through a question-and-answer phase to gather more data and ultimately, a recommendation would be provided by the AI.

Powered by machine learning, the symptom checker has already been integrated in Switzerland, where the company was founded. By the end of this year, it will be rolled out in stages in the Philippines. The company aims to extend its partnerships, increase its network of healthcare experts and provide patients with various touchpoints for easier access for patients – be it over the phone, social media, website or its upcoming mobile app.

This telemedicine company uses a medical co-management strategy in these consultations, in which experts from several specialisations consult on a single case. An internist, for example, may treat a paediatric case in order to gain a better understanding of and solution for a patient’s condition, contributing to the provider’s high treatment rate. Doctors undergo a minimum of 80 hours of training on the platform’s tools and methodology.

Communication between doctor-patient for purposes of medical consultation during extraordinary times or in cases where distance hinders or prevents them from doing so, by using a digital device like the computer would help to achieve the objective and thus, this defines telehealth.

With AI’s expanding use in telemedicine, doctors will be able to easily analyse, screen, and diagnose various illnesses from afar. When remote checking and AI are combined, good progress can be made with less specialised labour. This is because AI has the potential to reduce hospital wait times and other processing inconveniences.

The demand for smart healthcare, which includes telehealth and telemedicine, is increasing globally. From the distribution of electronic medical cards to personal consultations, telehealth is one of the newest industries to use AI extensively. As the field of telemedicine and telehealth evolves with increasing adoption, the role of AI in telemedicine, too, will grow substantially.

Telemedicine is practically the country’s healthcare sector’s future, and the Philippines government will need to consider it as a key component of universal health coverage. As there are not enough doctors in the country, utilising technology to distribute medicine is necessary for the country’s healthcare sector to improve. As telehealth continues to evolve, in the not-so-distant future people would soon be hearing “the robot will see you now.”

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