Indonesia’s health care relies on surprising apps for coronavirus consultations

As coronavirus cases in the country rise, health care workers split their time between visual and in-person consultations. Doctor Mohammad Risandi Priatama, has treated 10 Covid-19 patients over the past month at a West Java hospital.

At the same time, Dr Priatama triaged scores more through the app Alodokter.

“Because there are limited healthcare facilities especially in my district, our people need more information that is easy to use without the need to go the hospital,” he said.

A lack of medical staff and insufficient hospital beds for Covid-19 patients, coupled with extremely limited testing in a country with 270 million inhabitants resulted in what experts believe is an epidemic.

To relief pressure on the health care system, the government is referring people to so-called telehealth companies – these firms provide verified guidance, consultations and prescriptions managed via video, calls or texts.

Indonesia’s largest telehealth firms, including Alodokter, Halodoc and GrabHealth – a joint venture between Singapore ride-hailing app Grab and Ping An Good Doctor from China’s Ping An Healthcare and Technology Co Ltd – have seen a significant hike in users over the past month.

“As hospitals are already packed, the government wants to ensure only priority patients are going to emergency rooms and that patients who don’t urgently need hospitalisation can be helped online,” said Alodokter Chief Executive Nathanael Faibis.

Since Indonesia’s first reported case on March 2 Alodokter recorded 32 million website users in March and over 500,000 Covid-19 consultations.

Indonesia so far has reported 3,293 infections and a death toll of 280 – Asia’s highest outside China.

Similar ventures were developed in other countries. In China some of the most prominent ones are run by Ping An Good Doctor and Alibaba Health Information Technology Ltd.

In the Unites States Teladoc Health Inc reported twice the usual demand with up to 100,000 consultations per week.

But the usage of such startups in Indonesia is marginally higher with the Indonesian virus taskforce announcing on March 27 that they would display links to 20 telehealth services on their website.

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Officials are leaning on the telehealth services to treat patients with mild symptoms, so that hospital visits are reserved for those with worsening symptoms.

“This is really good for patients who are self-isolating, in that they can continue communication and receive direction through these startups,” Minister of Health Terawan Agus Putranto told parliament last week.

The patients’ data is collected by the task force, healthtech firms and doctors in order to slow the spread of the virus.

West Java, a virus “red zone”, has its own telehealth service for its 49 million residents to self-refer for coronavirus testing.

West Java Governor Ridwan Kamil said: “The app asks comprehensive questions to make sure people don’t go to hospitals for the smallest symptoms,

“Some people are even afraid to visit hospitals believing they are teeming with the virus.”

Health experts agree that the security of medical data must be regarded.

Jakarta-based hospital doctor Shela Putri Sundawa said: “Telehealth provides a place for people to ask questions,

“But meeting patients directly is very different than talking to them on the phone. How far can a doctor’s responsibility go?”

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