Department of Health and National Privacy Commission
7 April 2020 – present
Themes: Management for Productivity, Quality, and Agility, Digitization & New Technologies, and Perspectives on Productivity, Governance, and Development
The Department of Health (DOH) and National Privacy Commission (NPC) have developed a framework for telemedicine services in a bid to improve access to health services during the imposition of quarantine protocols in various areas in the country.
Background and Problem
In March 2020, a State of Public Health Emergency was declared in the Philippines due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Part of the measures to be implemented in response to this emergency was the imposition of Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) or General Community Quarantine (GCQ) measures in selected areas of the country. Under ECQ protocols, non-essential establishments were shut down and communities were placed under lockdown. Public transportation systems were halted and checkpoints were set up to flag private vehicles and check their credentials. Mobility was restricted to essential workers and quarantine passes were issued to each household’s designated errand-runner. These were all done to mitigate the transmission of the virus and lessen the load on the already overburdened healthcare system, but doing so also severely limited citizens’ access to regular checkups and consultations with their primary care providers.
Solution and Impact
On 7 April 7 2020, DOH and NPC issued a set of guidelines for the use and practice of telemedicine as part of the national government’s COVID-19 response strategy. These guidelines aimed to ensure the efficient and effective use of telemedicine while also minimizing the potential risk of exposure for both patients and healthcare providers (DOH-NPC, 2020).
The implementation of telemedicine in the Philippines integrates several models, combining a centralized hotline or call center service with a health facility-based approach or engaging existing telemedicine service providers, such as Medgate Philippines and Globe Telehealth / KonsultaMD, as potential partners.
DOH operates COVID-19 hotlines, accessible through the phone numbers 1555 and (02) 894-COVID. These hotlines facilitate a patient’s initial triaging, consultation referral, and/or emergency dispatch if needed. Consultations are done by patching together patients, agents, and resident doctors in a conference call. This can then be supplemented by involving a community-based general physician (based in local health centers) who can see the patient physically and facilitate follow-up consultations or quarantine monitoring. This may also be applied in hospitals and temporary facilities where the patient-to-doctor ratio is significantly high, allowing doctors to conduct telemedicine within the same building for any follow-up consultations.
In the first six months of implementation, the DOH COVID-19 hotlines have received over 70,000 calls from patients. However, this high volume, combined with the limited availability of call center staff, has led to patients being on hold for over sixty minutes at a time during peak hours. Calls received during off-hours, meanwhile, are advised to keep their phones available and to expect a call at the soonest availability of a doctor who can handle the consultation.
DOH is also looking into integrating telemedicine services into COVID-KAYA, the national surveillance and contact-tracing system, by allowing consultations to be logged as Case Investigation Forms.
Diagram of Telemedicine and Other COVID-Related Government Processes (Source: Department of Health)
Department of Health – National Privacy Commission. (2020, March 28). NPC Circulars.