How telemedicine is changing doctor consultations

There’s been a steady evolution in the way we interact with medical practitioners thanks to technology. Now the biggest South African medical scheme, Discovery Health Medical Scheme, is improving its tech to allow us to consult with our medical specialists remotely and more easily, finds Angelique Ruzicka

Discovery Health Medical Scheme has just announced the launch of DrConnect, the product of a partnership between it and HealthTap, based in Palo Alto, California. DrConnect enables patients, doctors and medical scheme case managers to connect with each other using state-of-the-art technology and artificial intelligence (AI) for free.

It is available to all Discovery Health Medical Scheme members and will, at a later stage, be made available to members of the other schemes administered by Discovery Health. There are just over 2.7 million members on Discovery Health Medical Scheme.

Through DrConnect patients have seamless access to high-quality medical information, and the app-based platform facilitates personal interactions between patients and their doctors. However, virtual consultations are reserved for follow up sessions not for first time patients.

“Doctors are extremely busy professionals, and facilitating real-time, easy communication with their patients will undoubtedly make doctors’ and patients’ lives easier. With more sophisticated and accessible digital tools, and big data analytics and AI technologies playing an increasingly prominent role in health systems, we are excited about the potential of DrConnect. This platform combines HealthTap’s technology and extensive database with our own market-leading capabilities. This combination, we foresee, will significantly enhance our service offering to members of medical schemes we administer in South Africa, as well as to the thousands of health professionals who treat them,” explains Broomberg.

How can I get it?
To use the service, download the DrConnect app, from app stores for Android and iOS. Once you have downloaded the DrConnect app, you can access the platform either through the Discovery app for members or through DrConnect directly. Alternatively, you can access it through Discovery.

DrConnect links medical scheme members with curated health information on their phones, tablets or personal computers. Answers to health-related questions are provided by over 108 000 doctors to millions of patients across 174 countries. This global service is generating an extensive library of personalised, doctor-created and peer-reviewed health content, stemming from over 5.5 billion responses to medical questions. This library grows daily, and will grow further locally as medical scheme members and their doctors engage on the platform.

Broomberg adds, “This platform will further support the existing functionality of Discovery HealthID, which is the country’s leading Electronic Health Record, currently used in more than 2 000 doctors’ practices. Specifically, doctors will now be able to capture their clinical notes on HealthID and communicate, in a confidential, secure and discreet environment, with colleagues and patients through the DrConnect platform.”

What are the main benefits of DrConnect?
Here’s how DrConnect will make finding health information and getting care easier

  1. You can scroll through a comprehensive online, curated medical library for instant answers to medical questions.
  2. You can communicate with doctors and medical scheme case managers
  3. Through HealthID registered doctors can do virtual follow-up consultations using video, voice or text notes.
  4. There will be integrated clinical data for medical scheme members who have consented to doctors using HealthID, which will optimise care
  5. Personalised, doctor-created checklists to help you manage your health and wellness.

Other telemedicine providers

Discovery Health is not the first to offer patients the ability to interact with healthcare practitioners at a distance. Here are a few more that have been longer in the game:

24/7 Baby line: This is a paediatric telemedicine company that offers 24/7 telephonic advice for parents with babies and toddlers under the age of three. It’s free if you belong to Bonitas medical scheme.

Guidepost: If you’ve been diagnosed with diabetes you may benefit from subscribing to this telemedicine provider, which operates through referrals through medical schemes. It was a finalist in the FNB Business Innovation Awards, which recognised it as one of South Africa’s most innovative companies.

Hello Doctor: With this mobile health solution you can talk or text your doctor. It also provides you with daily health advice and enables you to plug your symptoms in a Symptom Checker, which will give you a list of possible conditions that you may be suffering from.