“Hello there! I’m calling you from Siriraj Hospital. Have you ever tried the telehealth service from Siriraj Hospital?” Thus begins the dtac call agent’s pitch to a patient with a chronic health condition. She’s not calling to help them with their dtac subscription, but has volunteered to support Siriraj Hospital, one of the country’s designated hospitals to receive COVID-19 patients, on a mission to encourage patients to employ digital channels that are safer and less resource-intensive for the hospital’s staff.
“As the spread of the deadly virus continues, general patients and those with chronic disease are recommended to avoid face-to-face interaction because they’ll risk getting infections, especially at Siriraj Hospital. Therefore, online medical consultations are encouraged for patients during this time,” said Visit Wamwanich, director of Siriraj Hospital.
Siriraj Hospital is the oldest hospital in Thailand, founded by King Chulalongkorn in 1888 with the aim at providing public health services. The spread of COVID-19 pandemic has had a deep impact on various sectors, particularly medical and public health services. Providing the usual public health service during the COVID-19 crisis is a key mission for Siriraj Hospital.
“That is why we developed Siriraj Connect, a telemedicine solution, providing medical services from online consultation to drug delivery by post,” adds Dr. Visit. “There are three simple processes – preparation, online consultation and payment and drug delivery.”
Qualified patients for using Siriraj’s telemedicine service must hold a medical record with chronic symptoms at Siriraj Hospital. Siriraj Connect allows them to make appointments, consult their medical records, get referrals, make payments and search for drug information or maps of the sprawling complex.
“Patients will be worry-free from coronavirus infections and transmission, particularly the elderly. People should practice social distancing and stay at home during this unprecedented time,” said Dr. Visit.
dtac volunteers to “connect”
During the COVID-19 crisis, the digital divide is putting vulnerable groups at great risk. They lack digital literacy and the access to smartphones, a key to digital transition. That is why telehealth services may take a long time to become mainstream in Thailand. But with the population aging and medical personnel already stretched thin, the need for digital efficiencies has never been more pressing.
“The digital divide is a major challenge for telecom-intensive services, like telemedicine, which is even more clearly perceptible during the COVID-19 outbreak. A majority of patents cannot access Siriraj Connect mobile app as elderly patients require support to do so,” said Sharad Mehrotra, CEO at dtac.
“dtac purpose is ‘Connecting you to what matters most. Empowering societies.’ Hence our support to Siriraj Hospital through staffing resources, who are voluntarily assisting patients and clinicians to connect with each other through the remote healthcare service. This will improve the access of public health service,” said Mr. Mehrotra. “We called this the ‘dtac fights COVID-19’ mission.”
Around 1,000 messages will be distributed via SMS and MMS to patients with chronic diseases, encouraging them to install the Siriraj Connect app. The automated telephony system technology or IVR (Interactive Voice Response) provided by dtac also provided app installation instructions and enables patients to make appointment in advance remotely. The dtac call center team, with extensive experience of dealing with 20 million customers, are placed on standby to provide technical advice on Siriraj App.
Sunisa Sakephon, Head of the Mission, said “It’s totally different from what we’re used to as the target group are not familiar with technology. They’re mostly elderly patients. It takes around 30 to 40 minutes to introduce what is Siriraj Connect and how it’s important to them. By contrast, dtac customer service must be done by three – four minutes per request. It takes a longer period of time as we need to slowly explain step by step. In fact, their children and siblings play a more important role in taking this job.”
“In the reality, it’s not every elderly patient living with their loved. Some of them live alone. A huge number of them live in remote areas, which require at least a day for transportation. You can see that how their lives will be improved if they’re able to access telemedicine. That’s why they’re willing to do this job whether how long would it take. The achievement of our job is to convince patients to install and use the app,” she stressed.
Telemedicine: A turning point of Thailand’s public health services
Since the emergence of the novel coronavirus 2019, telemedicine agenda has been highlighted again among public health policymakers and medical professionals. Officials from World Health Organization viewed that telemedicine will play a vital role in public health services. And the transmission of COVID-19 will accelerate the adoption of telemedicine services.
Telemedicine is defined as the “delivery of health care services, where patients and providers are separated by distance. Telehealth uses ICT for the exchange of information for the diagnosis and treatment of diseases and injuries, research and evaluation, and for the continuing education of health professionals. Telehealth can contribute to achieving universal health coverage by improving access for patients to quality, cost-effective, health services wherever they may be. It is particularly valuable for those in remote areas, vulnerable groups and ageing populations.
Thailand currently has a doctor-patient ratio of 1 to 2065, which is far below WHO recommendation of 1 to 439. And a huge number of countries are facing the same problem.
Siriraj Connect is one of the tireless attempts of the public health agency in Thailand in providing the best-in-class service for all. This is in line with the establishment purpose of Siriraj Hospital founder, King Chulalongkorn in lifting up Thais’ quality of life.
Today, patients can download Siriraj Connect app for both Android and iOS. For further information regarding Siriraj Connect, please search Siriraj Connect on Youtube. If you have any question, you can consult a Q&A menu or dial 02-414-2000 and press 1