Dr Sudeshan Govender: Now, telehealth is saving lives

Globally, telehealth has been invaluable in managing COVID-19. In South Africa, online platforms for doctor consultations also support patient care. Dr Sudeshan Govender has had a digitally enabled practice in KwaZulu Natal for years and says telehealth is now life saving.

Dr Govender is used to having online follow up consultations with his patients. He does this using Discovery Health’s DrConnect app. In his interview for the Discovery Health COVID-19 podcast series, he tells Azania Mosaka that when it comes to COVID-19, this technology has become more than a convenient tool to save time and money; it is helping people practise physical distancing and saving lives.

Listen to Azania’s chat with Dr Sudeshan Govender here:

Dr Govender says that many people are fearful of COVID-19 spreading and want to understand the disease better. He cites the example of a American-based chatbot called ‘Grace’ that answered 1 million questions about COVID-19 from 70 000 people in one month. Telehealth platforms allow doctors to educate their patients about COVID-19 and overcome misinformation.

– Do you know that free COVID-19 Online Doctor Consultations are available to all South Africans through a Vodacom and Discovery partnership?

A change in the mindset of running a medical practice

Dr Govender runs a medical practice in Tongaat, KwaZulu-Natal that focuses on non-communicable diseases, like diabetes and heart disease, as well as general healthcare.

“Due to the nature of coronavirus disease 2019, we’ve had to amplify hygiene (always a requirement but now heightened), and put measures in place to limit face-to-face consultations to protect our health as doctors, the health of our staff and of our patients,” explains Dr Govender.

He says physical distancing has been especially difficult as his practice sees more than 100 patients a day. He has long used digital tools in his practice. “I started using the Discovery HealthID Electronic Health Record back in 2012. This platform forms the basis of being able to provide online or virtual care,” he says. Dr Govender has also long used the extension of HealthID called DrConnect, which allows virtual patient consultations.

How does an online doctor consultation work?

Dr Govender explains there are two types of online consultations available on DrConnect:

  1. Face-to-face consultation using video, much like a Skype or Zoom.
  2. Text message consultation like using SMS or WhatsApp.

“I usually do online consultations early in the morning or after 17:00 in the afternoon. To use the online platforms, usually a doctor must have seen a patient face-to-face at least once. During the time of the COVID-19 pandemic we are also able to see patients we have not seen face-to-face before. It is convenient to use for patients who are waiting for test results or for patients who have chronic conditions. We meet online and I can send a script or complete applications. I’ll only see them face-to-face when there is a matter that cannot be dealt with through the online platform,” says Dr Govender.

In the United States many patients use online doctor consultations, with 59% of patients preferring to see a doctor through these channels.

COVID-19 has created urgency to accept using online consultations

Doctors in general have been slow to adopt this way of consulting with patients. Dr Govender says it could be because people are “creatures of habit”. The first step to adopting any innovation is when a need or urgency exists. “In my practice I have seen a tenfold increase in the requests for online consultations since the COVID-19 pandemic began in South Africa,” says Dr Govender.

The urgency to use telehealth was created by factors around managing COVID-19. Dr Govender lists them as:

  • Maintaining physical distancing
  • Avoiding an influx of people who think they have symptoms of COVID-19 to emergency and doctors’ rooms
  • Doing first-line screening for all people who are at high risk for severe illness as a result of COVID-19 and who have been exposed to or show symptoms of the disease to direct them towards testing or other care
  • Keeping healthcare facility resources available to treat the very ill
  • Limiting exposure to COVID-19 for patients who do have to come in to a medical practice
  • Protecting the health of all doctors, including older people and those with underlying health conditions, and to allay any fears of contracting the virus.

He says, “If you take away fear, you take away mistakes in healthcare. Protecting the health of doctors is also extremely important when you consider that some of our country’s doctors are older. Around the world, the death rates among healthcare professionals have been high as they face ongoing exposure to coronavirus disease 2019.”

– PODCAST: Listen to Azania Mosaka’s podcast interview with Dr Despina Demopoulos as she explains the reality facing all doctors who are working to prepare for the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic in South Africa.

Referring to the free COVID-19 online doctor consultations made available to all South Africans through Discovery and Vodacom, Dr Govender says, “This has opened access to consultations and testing to a vast number of my patients who are uninsured. In one day, I used this service to screen five people and they were relieved to have access to it.”

What happens when a test shows a patient has COVID-19?

“I have had 18 patients who have recently received confirmed COVID-19 results. There are many patients who do not have to be hospitalised and who recuperate at home. We can monitor them remotely through the DrConnect platform for the 14 to 21 days it takes to recover from COVID-19,” says Dr Govender.

“Online consultation platforms like Discovery DrConnect help us all in the effective management of COVID-19 and I urge patients to consider these options in seeing their healthcare provider at this time.”

All medical information found on this website including content, graphics and images, is for educational and informational objectives only. Discovery Health publishes this content to help to protect and empower all South Africans by promoting a better understanding of COVID-19.

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