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Jakarta Post

The time is right: COVID-19 gives more room for telemedicine to grow in Indonesia

  • Tri Indah Oktavianti

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Tue, April 21, 2020   /   01:30 pm
The time is right: COVID-19 gives more room for telemedicine to grow in Indonesia Indonesian Medical Association (IDI) spokesperson Halik Malik said the association fully supported the telemedicine platforms, which is endorsed by the government, in providing health services for the public, especially during the pandemic. (Shutterstock/File)

The use of virtual medical services has climbed in recent months as people try to contain the spread of COVID-19 at hospitals and clinics in Indonesia, telemedicine platforms have reported.

As the telemedicine trend has already risen in the country, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo addressed his appreciation toward the business on Monday, hoping that the platforms would grow even more. 

"I think that medical consultations through advanced technology, or telemedicine, should be enhanced so that we could limit direct contact between doctors and patients [during the pandemic]," said the President during a Cabinet meeting at the State Palace complex on Monday. 

Indonesian Medical Association (IDI) spokesperson Halik Malik said the association fully supported the telemedicine platforms, which is endorsed by the government, in providing health services for the public, especially during the pandemic.

"Telemedicine was designed for teleconsultations, but a further physical examination is still needed for diagnosis and treatment," Halik told The Jakarta Post on Monday. "But at least, it can reduce unnecessary visits to health facilities."

According to Halik, the association encouraged doctors nationwide to provide medical consultations through online platforms so that people can access medical information from home.

One of the leading telemedicine platforms in Indonesia, Alodokter, has seen a spike in user traffic in recent months.

Read also: Amid pandemic, a turning point for telemedicine

According to Alodokter partnership vice president Agustine Gunawan, the platform has recorded 61 million web visits and had more than 33 million active users in March. The app has also been downloaded more than 5.5 million and the number of patient-doctor interactions has increased to more than 750,000 last month.

"It recorded approximately 1.5 times higher than the usual platform's traffic before the coronavirus outbreak," Agustine told the Post on Monday. 

"However, in comparison to last month, people nowadays are relatively asking about non-coronavirus-related health issues, such as what medicine to take if you feel unwell at home and so forth," she added.

Meanwhile, another app, Halodoc, launched a service on Monday that enables users to make appointments for COVID-19 rapid tests or real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests at 20 hospitals in Greater Jakarta and Karawang municipality in West Java. 

The platform has formed partnerships with five private hospital chains, namely Mitra Keluarga hospitals, St. Carolus hospitals, Mayapada hospitals, Primaya hospitals and Bina Husada Cibinong hospital.

"We’ve seen more people become aware of health and they come to our platforms for health consultations," Halodoc CEO Jonathan Sudharta said in a statement on Monday.

The platform allows users to directly communicate with doctors through chats, calls and videos, as well as get prescribed medicine delivered to their homes, arrange appointments for doctor visits and lab services.

Having used the Alodokter platform for nearly a year, Renza Elma Pramitha, 25, a resident of Sidoarjo in East Java, was among those who still anxiously checked about COVID-19 through virtual medical consultations.

"I was feeling unwell last night and I had a consultation through Alodokter to check whether or not I have COVID-19 symptoms," she told the Post.

"I was anxious about the coronavirus transmission, especially since my husband still goes to work and meets a lot of people every day. My husband and I typically get sick easily.”

Even though Renza didn't receive any prescriptions through her free consultation session, she was relieved to actually talk to a medical expert about her current condition.

Read also: Quarantined doctors turn to video chats so they can see patients

For a stay-at-home mother like Ayu Farida, 26, who has a 5-month old baby, visiting hospitals during this current situation is terrifying.

"My son was having a skin rash this morning and I was scared to meet a lot of people in hospitals. The telemedicine app gave me methods to handle the skin rash on my own at home," she said.

"Some suggestions did not work as it was hard to make a diagnosis when there was no direct physical examination. But at least telemedicine is fast and sometimes free.”

Rahma Amelia, 25, a full-time employee of a government agency in Sidoarjo, had a similar experience. She recently used the HaloDoc app for an ear infection. 

Working from home did not necessarily give her free time to visit a doctor as she had to be productive at home.

"It was relatively cheap and helpful for full-time workers as the medicine was delivered to my home," she said.