As the number of health workers who have been exposed to coronavirus (COVID-19) increases, health facilities, especially private hospitals, are adopting virtual or video consulting.
That way, they minimise the need for physical interaction between doctors, nurses and their patients. Using mobile devices and other related gizmos, doctors can observe patients, diagnose their medical condition and give prescriptions which can be gotten at pharmacies.
The latest report from the National Association of Nigeria Nurses and Midwives (NANNM), revealed that over 2,000 Nigerian health care professionals especially, nurses and doctors, have been exposed to COVID-19 while about fifteen health care professionals have lost their lives.
This is because of a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE), especially when attending to asymptomatic patients.
Speaking with the Nation, the Medical Director of Alliance Hospital and Services Limited, Dr Otabor C.U, said: “Necessity is the mother of invention. Because of the COVID-19 Pandemic, it has become important to reduce the physical contact with patients because it is not everyone who has COVID-19 that will manifest symptoms.
“More than 80 per cent of those who are infected with the virus will not show symptoms. Therefore, health workers are at risk of contracting the virus from asymptomatic patients. If you are looking for fever or difficulty in breathing you may never see it, yet the patient you are seeing may have the virus. This has led to the idea behind virtual consulting or what you call e-consulting.
“Quite a large number of our patients are consulted through the phone. In fact, many of our patients don’t even want to come to the hospital for the fear of COVID-19. So it is a win-win for everybody because it is good for the hospital and the patient.
“With the history and physical examination, the doctor reaches a diagnosis. Following that, a prescription is made and the patient simply takes the prescription to the pharmacy, get his medication and is fine.”
He added: “Not all cases will fall under this category because there are some patients who will have to go to the hospital physically because they may need some other investigations like X-ray, blood test etc. For those ones, the health worker uses personal protective equipment like face masks, hand gloves etc.
“There are still some that will require surgery. There is really nothing we can do about that especially when it is emergency surgery. You cannot do virtual consultations with surgery.”
The Chairman, Medical Sub-Committee of the COVID-19 Ministerial Expert Advisory Committee in Abuja, Dr Ejike Orji, said: “In the light of what is going on now, there is still a lot of advice you can give over the phone. Telemedicine is something that has been especially in areas that are underserved, especially rural areas.
“At the ministerial expert committee level on COVID-19, we have developed a protocol in conjunction with the hospital management board of the FCT and about to finalize it to make sure that it is used both in a public and private hospital in Abuja.
“This is because some patients have died because they could not access care on time because the healthcare workers were afraid of contracting COVID-19. That is why we are doing the protocol for how to handle patients when they come to any facility both private and public facilities.
“Tele-medicine will reduce the number of people who go to the hospital. Also, patients can reach out to their nurses for family planning advises through video consulting.”
In a phone interview, the Chairman of the FCT Chapter of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), Dr Ekpe Phillips, said: “One thing to understand is that if doctors are infected and put into isolation, our workforce for health will have reduced.
“So we are trying to reduce the contact with the patient as much as possible so that you attend to those ones that are in a serious emergency, while others can be through a video or voice call.
“In fact, you can do the surgery through telemedicine in a situation whereby the doctor that is performing the surgery is being told what to do or the robot performing the surgery is being instructed on what to do.
“However, in emergencies like labour and delivery, doctors put on their personal protective equipment to carry out such procedures.
“In recent times, I have been involved in telemedicine and two out of the three patients that called me turned out to be COVID-19 positive. After listening to the patient complains over the phone and realised it was similar to the symptoms of COVID-19, I put a call through to the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC). Samples were taken and the result came out positive.
“So imagine if I was not careful. Remember that doctors are not turning down patients, they are only seeing them via proxy through teleconferencing, but when it is an emergency, you see them physically.”