Doha, 13 April, 2020: In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) has begun offering many of its regular services, including urgent consultations, via telemedicine. Dr. Khalid Al Rumaihi, Head of Urology at HMC is managing the Urgent Consultation Service and says while receiving care via telephone is a drastic change for many patients, most medical issues can be resolved through telemedicine.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in radical changes to the way medicine is delivered. Most of our outpatient departments are now providing around 90 percent of their regular services virtually, and some departments, like urology, have moved one hundred percent of outpatient visits to telemedicine visits. We’re trying to keep our regular patients, particularly those who are most vulnerable, out of our clinics. We know COVID-19 can be very harmful, and even fatal, for people with compromised health, and by using telephone and video visits, patients can avoid coronavirus exposure while still accessing hospital-level medical care,” said Dr. Al Rumaihi.
While HMC has provided some outpatient services through telemedicine visits for many years, this is a new service for urgent care. Dr. Al Rumaihi says urgent consultations are being provided by telephone across fourteen specialties.
“This physician-led service is for non-life-threating conditions and is currently available for urology, orthopedics, general surgery, general medicine, ENT, dermatology, neurology, dental, hematology, medical oncology, pediatrics, gynecology, cardiology, and mental health. The service will be expanded to include other specialties, including geriatrics and pain management, in the coming weeks. Any member of the public who has a valid health card can access the urgent consultation service by calling 16000 between 7am and 10pm, seven days a week including weekends,” said Dr. Al Rumaihi.
“Providing urgent care through telemedicine reduces some of the burden on emergency services so that these resources are available when needed. It also allows us to keep otherwise healthy patients away from the hospital,” said Dr. Mohammed Al Ateeq, Head of Orthopedics at HMC and a member of the project steering committee for the new Urgent Consultation Service.
According to Dr. Al Ateeq, the urgent consultation service received around 500 calls a day during its first week of operation and he said that number is quickly increasing. He says telemedicine is an effective way to diagnose and treat new health problems, to address routine requests, like prescription refills, and to ensure patients who require an in-person visit get access to care.
“Patients are actively searching for the ability to receive medical care without leaving their home. Many medical issues can be resolved without hospitalization and many without a physical exam. In cases where patients require hospital-based care, our physicians can triage via telephone and provide a referral, which in some cases involves sending the patient to the emergency department. By administering care through remote consultation for those less critical patients, we reduce emergency department congestion and reserve this resource for those patients who truly require it,” said Dr. Al Ateeq.
“In addition to being safer for patients, telemedicine is also a way to limit exposure among healthcare workers to patients infected with COVID-19. It is safer for both patients and frontline healthcare works and lessens the use of masks, gowns, and other personal protective equipment,” added said Dr. Al Rumaihi.
The Ministry of Public Health has established a dedicated website (www.moph.gov.qa) to provide the public with updates on the current situation as well as information on how to protect themselves and others from COVID-19.