HumanInsight The Promise of Teleconsultation in the Era of Pandemic: A Case from Bangladesh
Telemed J E Health. 2022 Jul 20. doi: 10.1089/tmj.2021.0529. Online ahead of print.
Background: In 2016, the Government of Bangladesh (GoB) established a teleconsultation service called Shastho Batayon to increase access to physicians. During COVID-19 pandemic, health care access became limited due to movement restrictions. In response, GoB made Shastho Batayon toll free, publicized the number through media, increased the number of call center doctors, introduced automated messages on COVID-19 preventive measures, and developed a scoring system to classify risk groups for COVID-19. Objectives and Methods: In this case report, we describe how an existing national teleconsultation service can be utilized in a low- and middle-income country to address primary health care needs during a public health emergency. We conducted secondary analysis of Shastho Batayon service data from January to April 2020. Results: The total calls for doctor's consultation increased during the pandemic. Prepandemic, Shastho Batayon received less than 20,000 calls per month. In March 2020, when the first cases of COVID-19 were confirmed, Shastho Batayon services received 60,811 calls for doctor's consultation, which increased to 125,660 calls in April, 2020. The doctor's consultation for primary care has increased for all conditions. Shastho Batayon services screened 28,944 patients with the influenza-like illness or COVID-19-like symptoms in March and April, 2020, provided preventive measures, advice, and referral to designated hospitals based on a national guideline. Conclusions: In public health emergencies such as COVID-19 pandemic, teleconsultation services can help provide prevention guidelines, debunk misinformation, identify risk categories, and refer people to appropriate service and facilities in a timely manner.
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