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Bong Go pushes for telemedicine as alternative healthcare delivery method amid pandemic

September 16, 2020 - Wednesday 1:09 PM by MDM

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Senator and Chair of the Senate Committee on Health Christopher "Bong" Go pushed for the passage of his proposed measure which seeks to institutionalize the use of information and communications technology (ICT) in the provision of public health services and telemedicine as an alternative health service delivery method.

During a Senate Health Committee hearing on Tuesday, Go noted that the current health crisis has provided an opportunity to introduce policies and systems that would make the country more prepared to face crises of similar nature in the future.

"Every single day since this pandemic started has been a learning experience for us in the government. We strive to do and be better each day," he said.

One of these measures, Senate Bill 1803, or the e-Health System and Services Act of 2020, aims to regulate the practice of telemedicine and e-Health, set the standards of practice and implement a mechanism for individuals and entities providing e-Health services. Related measures were filed by Senators Sonny Angara, Ramon Revilla, Jr., and Imee Marcos, too.

SB 1803 also seeks to recognize e-Health as equal with other healthcare delivery methods, guarantee quality of service, and ensure patient safety and protection. It will also establish an ICT-enabled and integrated Philippine healthcare system delivering quality health outcomes for all Filipinos.

"As the pandemic continues to limit physical interaction and mobility and face-to-face transactions, the use of information and communications technology at this time has become apparent, and telemedicine became an alternative health delivery method," Go noted.

If passed into law, the e-Health Policy and Coordination Council will be established to define and promote overall e-Health policies, standards and regulations at all levels of healthcare system, public and private.

The Council is also tasked to ensure integration and coordination of national and local e-Health strategies and initiatives, among other responsibilities.

During the hearing, the Department of Health has expressed support to the measure, saying that it recognizes the role of ICT for health or e-health. It added that the measure is an "innovative measure to deliver cost-efficient and sustainable interventions towards an integrated and comprehensive approach to universal healthcare."

"e-Health is recognized as a strategic intervention in generating evidenced-based information towards policy development, decision-making, program planning and implementation and the institution of transparency and accountability in measures at all levels," the health department further noted. 

Meanwhile, Go sought clarifications from the DOH regarding the differences and utilization of e-Health and telemedicine. 

DOH Assistant Secretary Dr. Eric Tayag responded, saying, e-Health is the use of ICT for health while telemedicine is the provision of remote clinical services to patients.

"Ang digital health o e-health ay ang paggamit po ng information or communication technologies for health," Tayag explained.

"Ang telemedicine po ay ang remote clinical services kung saan hindi talaga nasa harap ng pasyente ng doctor ang pasyente subalit remote, sa pamamagitan ng pagtawag o online chat or virtual communication po," he added.

Asked by Go for updates regarding their COVID-19 telemedicine project, Tayag said that the DOH has successfully launched a COVID-19 hotline with the help of the Department of the Interior and Local Government and a private telecommunications company.

"Nung una po, tumatanggap lang kami ng tawag sa publiko at humihingi sila ng impormasyon tungkol sa COVID-19. Kalaunan, ang demand po ay nauwi po sa medical consultations," he said.

Meanwhile, Go continues to appeal to the general public for their patience and to remain vigilant, cooperate with authorities, comply with health protocols and continue to show compassion to each other amid the health crisis.

"Huwag natin balewalain ang mga simpleng patakaran na ito na makakapagligtas ng buhay ng kapwa nating Pilipino," he said.

"In this hearing, we welcome the inputs of our agencies, stakeholders and experts to improve these measures that will help us not only overcome this pandemic, but also make us more prepared and responsive to any other health crisis," he added.

In the same hearing, Go, together with other senators and various stakeholders, also discussed a measure increasing the bed capacity of the Benguet General Hospital and placing it under the direct supervision and control of the DOH; and another proposed bill that seeks to create the Medical Reserves Corps.

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