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Telemedicine in Singapore: The doctor will see you… anytime, anywhere

Imagine a world where you never have to leave your home to see your doctor. You merely click a couple buttons on your computer or mobile device and your new specialist appears on screen. She was just sent your medical records electronically from your general practitioner following their video consultation about your current condition. The funny thing is, you are in Singapore, your GP is in Hong Kong, and the specialist is in Germany. Not long ago, this kind of scenario would be something that might be presented to you in a science fiction movie, but today these kinds of interactions are happening between patients and medical professionals all the time via telemedicine!

That’s right, telemedicine has really come a long way, and is set to start growing by leaps and bounds, especially in a city that is on the cutting edge of healthcare like Singapore. For people like you, the key will be letting you know how you can actually make use of this type of service, as well as how this type of service can be paid for across international borders. Here, Pacific Prime Singapore takes a closer look at telehealth in the city-state.

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Getting in touch

It seems like there is no end to the number of video conferencing platforms that we have access to today. Between Skype, WeChat, FaceTime, Google Hangouts, video games consoles, laptops, mobile phones and more, pretty much anyone with access to the internet can converse face-to-face with people anywhere in the world. Singapore’s Ministry of Health (MOH) has formally recognized the potential of this technology by creating official guidelines for telemedicine in the country. These guidelines outline what exactly is to be considered telemedicine or telehealth in Singapore.

Most broadly, telemedicine is defined by the MOH as the exchanging of information for clinical purposes between medical professionals and patients/caregivers via telephone, text messaging or other similar applications. MOH guidelines also spell out the features associated with what they consider to be different domains of telemedicine. These domains are:

  • Tele-support refers to spreading information to patients electronically strictly for the purpose of increasing their knowledge, and not for clinical purposes. This can range from prevention guidelines to disease management.

  • Tele-monitoring is a method of collecting data directly from patients via remote systems. While the patient will be in possession of the necessary devices, the data gathered from them is stored off-site, where doctors can observe it.

  • Tele-treatment’s express purpose is to deliver clinical care through telemedicine. This is accomplished through actions taken between patients or caregivers and medical professionals. One famous example of this would be the robotic surgeries that you may have heard about in the news as of late.

  • Tele-collaboration is all about healthcare providers being able to communicate and plan effectively to the benefit of their mutual patient. Whether done at the same facility or remotely, doctors can utilize technology in order to co-diagnosis, refer, supervise or review patient cases.


Quality of Care

Beyond these domains, Singapore guidelines are laid out to protect the patient and ensure the highest level of care is delivered to every patient in Singapore, no matter where the doctor on the other end of the line may be. Singapore takes pride in the high quality of service it provides, and wants to make sure that patients receive a comparable level of service through telemedicine as well. In order to make sure this is the case, the guidelines show preference towards all telemedicine in which a Singapore doctor is involved and can monitor the entirety of a patient’s treatment.

As well, an emphasis on confidentiality and privacy must be put on information relating to telemedicine, as the very nature of it requires more open access to sensitive health information. Any healthcare provider practicing telemedicine in Singapore must have a confidentiality policy in place that adheres to the SMC Ethical Code and Ethical Guidelines and Personal Data Protection Act in order to do so.

Singapore standards go both ways to. If a doctor in Singapore is to assist a patient anywhere else in the world via telemedicine, they are expected to perform to the same standards they are held to in Singapore, including holding all of the appropriate licenses and qualifications. This standard extends to nurses or any other professional providing telemedicine services in Singapore.


Now and in the future

Telemedicine is already being used in Singapore. An article on CNN has highlighted how the National University of Singapore is already has a tele-rehabilitation program in operation to help patients undergoing physical rehabilitation to recover more quickly. The article also brings up an interesting point regarding telemedicine and its future in Singapore. These services will likely be more important than ever in the future as a result of the ageing taking place with regards to the city’s population demographics.

So why is telemedicine so beneficial to elderly patients? Well, due to the limited mobility and transportation issues with some senior citizens, telemedicine can open up a whole new world of medical assistance for them. Also, a side effect of telemedicine will be that the physical facilities of Singapore’s hospitals will be freed up to deal with serious emergencies, as patients with less pressing ailments will be able to be consulted and possibly diagnosed from home. Of course, the elderly and technology have not been best of friends historically, so education and creating a familiarity with the necessary equipment and software will be crucial in the successful implementation of telemedicine within this community. After all, there are already multiple telemedicine apps created by Singapore developers that are available for download on mobile devices, but if the user cannot understand or use them, then the existence of the apps doesn’t really make a difference.


Paying for telehealth

Here we come to an interesting point: Many people’s local health insurance only covers them in a single jurisdiction (that being their home country), but telemedicine often times deals with doctors and hospitals across borders. Does this mean that some insurance plans will not provide coverage for telemedicine received from abroad? Absolutely.

Fortunately, there are international health insurance plans available, like those provided by Pacific Prime Singapore. To find out if your current insurance plan will pay benefits for telehealth treatment, contact Pacific Prime Singapore today. Our insurance advisors can give you details about your current plan and compare it against other insurance plans available on the market. If you decide that an international health insurance plan is right for you, then you can get a free quote!

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Content Strategist at Pacific Prime Singapore
Jessica Lindeman is a Content Strategist at Pacific Prime. She comes to work every day living and breathing the motto of "simplifying insurance", and injects her unbridled enthusiasm for health and insurance related topics into every article and piece of content she creates for Pacific Prime.

When she's not typing away on her keyboard, she's reading poetry, fueling her insatiable wanderlust, getting her coffee fix, and perpetually browsing animal Instagram accounts.