Telemedicine on the rise in Saudi Arabia amid pandemic

Individuals can book their appointments with their hospital’s doctors using various communication channels, including their call center number, website, and mobile apps.

  
Image used for illsutrative purpose. Shot of a young muslim businessman using his phone while traveling in a car.

Image used for illsutrative purpose. Shot of a young muslim businessman using his phone while traveling in a car.

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RIYADH: In response to the elevated risk level from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, various hospitals in Saudi Arabia have accelerated telemedicine health services, offering secure and virtual face-to-face interactions with doctors. Patients can now easily access medical consultations from the comfort of their homes.

The telemedicine services have come handy at a time when the Kingdom is fighting the COVID-19, and physical distancing is the norm to break the virus’s spread.

Individuals can book their appointments with their hospital’s doctors using various communication channels, including their call center number, website, and mobile apps.

Speaking to Arab News, Dr. Shaikh Abdullah said: “During this global pandemic, telemedicine is emerging as an effective and sustainable solution for prevention and treatment to contain the spread of COVID-19.”

Specialists speak to patients over an audio/video call and advise necessary courses of treatments or investigations required, and medicines can be collected or are delivered to homes.

In response to the public health emergency, Johns Hopkins Aramco Healthcare, Dhahran (JHAH) has accelerated the launch of primary care and psychiatric video sessions.

Since March, JHAH’s primary care physician, Dr. Nisar Ul-Islam Yaseen, and Chief of Psychiatry and Mental Health Services Dr. Abdulsamad Al-Jishi, have been connecting with patients using MyChart, the patient portal that is part of the hospital’s electronic medical record.

Dr. Yaseen told Arab News: “I found that video visits, when compared to the alternative of a telephone appointment, offer a valuable extra communication modality.

“By being able to see the patient, you can improve the quality of the clinical assessment. For example, when a patient complained their asthma symptoms were currently troublesome, without being able to see him, I would have asked him to come to the clinic for a fuller physical assessment.

“But with the video visit, I could see that the patient wasn’t in any respiratory distress, looked well and had no difficulty breathing, so I could make a better judgment and develop a more appropriate management plan, which did not require him to attend the hospital.”

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The telemedicine services have come handy at a time when the Kingdom is fighting the COVID-19, and physical distancing is the norm to break the virus’s spread.

Video calls have additional benefits for the patients, as the restrictions in place to limit the spread of COVID-19, such as quarantine, can be stressful for some people. Patients feel more connected and reassured because they can see their doctors, who can pick up on non-verbal communication cues and are able to “express sympathy and empathy, unlike via telephone or email,” Dr. Yaseen added.

Dr. Al-Jishi told Arab News: “Tele-psychiatry began in the 1950s when teleconferencing was used for group therapy and consultation liaison psychiatry. In the 1990s, video visits spread further to provide psychiatric care in underserved areas around the world. In the decades since, studies have shown ‘telehealth’ options to be equivalent to in-person psychiatric care in diagnostic accuracy, treatment and effectiveness.”

Video visits provide a secure, safe, face-to-face, model of psychiatric intervention during the COVID-19 pandemic, he added.

“Our personal experience so far is very positive, but we will need some time to fully assess the benefit in Saudi culture. With that said, I think it is very promising; I am optimistic that it will be an important option for our patient psychiatric care in the future,” he said.

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