Telemedicine Services in the University of the Philippines Health Service during the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Two-week Process Documentation and Analysis
Background. Telemedicine provides access to health care services during pandemics. It can be utilized to screen asymptomatic persons, follow up close contacts of confirmed cases, monitor individuals with symptoms, conduct specialty consultations, and offer health services to patients during pandemics.
Objective. To describe the telemedicine processes, good practices, and areas for improvement in the University of the Philippines Health Service (UPHS) during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Methods. This was a cross-sectional study to document telemedicine processes in UPHS. All teleconsultations of employees and students of Philippine General Hospital (PGH) and UP Manila (UPM) during the two-week study period in October 2020 were included. Quantitative data was collected from different modes of patient entry into the UPHS telemedicine services: email, Online Consultation Request and Appointment (OCRA) System, and phone hotlines. Qualitative information was gathered as narrative descriptions of observations in the clinic’s service delivery areas. A focus group discussion was also conducted to illustrate the different steps of the pathway used for telemedicine.
Results. The telemedicine services of UPHS consisted of virtual triage, COVID-19/non-COVID-19 consultation, and telemonitoring. The UPHS virtual triage received patient concerns through OCRA or the hotline numbers. On the other hand, the COVID-19 teleconsultation service provided care to employees and students who contacted the clinic regarding symptoms or exposure via email. The non-COVID-19 service had teleconsultation for patients with other medical concerns. Coordination among staff and presence of a consultant were identified as good practices, while the areas for improvement include the lack of written protocols in issuing fit-to-work clearance for difficult cases and the optional use of OCRA for UPHS consult.
Conclusion. Telemedicine services at the UPHS included tele-triaging, teleconsultations, and telemonitoring with use of phone calls, short messaging service (SMS), emails, and OCRA. Timely coordination, on-site duty consultants, and use of technology were identified as good practices. Lack of protocols and inconsistent OCRA use are areas for improvement.