A First-timers’ Guide to Telemedicine in Singapore (2020)

A First-timers’ Guide to Telemedicine in Singapore (2020)

The Covid-19 pandemic has spurred on a new wave in healthcare: telemedicine. Seeing a doctor online from the comforts of our home is now a thing, just like how we are now accustomed to using video conferencing tools like Zoom for virtual work meetings during the Circuit Breaker. With telemedicine becoming increasingly accepted, virtual doctor consultations may just become the new normal, too.

Remember all the times when you felt really sick and forcibly dragged yourself to the nearest doctor to get your flu medications and MC? Telemedicine available now can change all that — it’s now possible to see a doctor online without stepping even one foot off your bed. All you need is your mobile phone and a solid data connection. 

But how does telemedicine work in Singapore exactly? How do we actually see a doctor online and is it expensive? What to expect in a virtual doctor consultation?

After all, we are so used to seeing a doctor physically in Singapore. For those who are not so technologically-savvy, telemedicine could also be a hard pill to swallow.

In this guide, we cover everything you need to know about using telemedicine in Singapore — even if you have never done it before. We also added a list of telemedicine providers here in Singapore for your easy reference. The growth of telemedicine here beckons unparalleled convenience for us as patients the next time we fall ill (touch wood!).

What is telemedicine?

Telemedicine or “doctor apps” are tools which allow us to consult a GP doctor virtually through video call or message-based chat services, i.e. telecommunication technology.

A formal definition by the World Health Organisation says that it is “the delivery of health care services at a distance using electronic means for the diagnosis of treatment, prevention of disease and injuries, education of health care providers to improve health.” [1]

When we refer to telemedicine, we almost always mean teleconsultations, i.e. a doctor-and-patient interaction online. However, telemedicine can also comprise other services like remote reading of radiology images, telemonitoring for example vital signs monitoring for home nursing and teleconferencing amongst healthcare professionals on medication dosage and clinical purposes. [2]

Despite it being the talk of the town now, telemedicine is not new. In fact, this is exactly the way doctors have been caring for patients who are living in non-accessible areas (think: remote areas of Alaska, etc). But for us city dwellers where doctors and clinics are well within our reach, it’s a relatively new concept to grasp.

Who is telemedicine suitable for?

Telemedicine is especially suitable for common illnesses, i.e. your usual cough and colds, diarrhoea, menstrual cramps etc, as well as chronic disease management. Patients who suffer from chronic diseases like diabetes and hypertension require frequent prescription and medication refills.

Word of warning though: telemedicine cannot replace a physical diagnosis for chronic patients, it is useful only for the follow-up of chronic patients who have been through physical consultations with a doctor and been diagnosed.

For the elderly with mobility issues e.g. grandparents who are wheel-chair bound etc, they can benefit from the convenience of telemedicine and get help from the comfort of their homes. It may be a helpful long-term option to consider beyond Covid. It’s also useful for getting a more discreet consultation, for example, sexual health issues like HIV and AIDS.

If you are below 16 years old, you’ll need to have a guardian (who must be at least 21 years old) to be present with you during the teleconsultation. You’ll need to show your NRIC for verification. [3]

What conditions can be treated for telemedicine?

Here is a list of common acute conditions you can get diagnosis and treatment for via telemedicine: [4]

  • Flu, cough or sore throat;
  • Fever, or headache;
  • Diarrhoea, constipation or vomiting;
  • Rash, or cold sores;
  • Conjunctivitis;
  • Urinary tract infection;
  • Dermatological conditions; and
  • Other non-emergent medical issues

It’s quite an exhaustive list, if you ask us. After your video consultation with a doctor on one of the telemedicine apps in Singapore, they will then deliver the prescribed medication to you within the day and send you an e-MC. 

What conditions are NOT suitable for teleconsultation?

If you have sudden acute symptoms such as prolonged burning or squeezing chest pain, pain that radiates from the chest to the neck, arms and jaw, breathlessness, dizziness and nausea, weak pulse and cold sweat, these are symptoms of a heart attack which demands immediate physical medical attention. [5]

If you experience symptoms like sudden numbness in your body, a sudden confusion or fit, sudden difficulty in seeing, speaking, walking or understanding, difficulty in swallowing, sudden severe headaches, these symptoms may signal the start of a stroke — another life-threatening medical emergency. [5] In such cases, call for an ambulance right away so that you can be sent to the nearest hospital’s A&E department.

Telemedicine is also not suitable for conditions that require laboratory tests, X-rays or physical examinations. Doctors on telemedicine apps are mostly trained to identify if your case is not suitable for video consultations and can then follow up with a physical doctor’s visit.

Is telemedicine in Singapore safe?

Yes, all healthcare institutions are under the watchful eye of the Ministry of Health (MOH). Only registered and qualified healthcare professionals in Singapore under the Singapore Medical Council (SMC) are allowed to provide virtual consultations online over doctor apps.

However, with all its convenience, telemedicine also comes with its own set of risks such as misdiagnosis. Under Singapore’s telemedicine guidelines, doctors should also clearly state the limitations of his telemedicine service at the start of the consultation. They also must refer you for a physical consult if they are unable to make a proper judgement on your condition via video consult.

Ok so where can I see a doctor online?

You can download one of the many telemedicine doctor apps that have sprouted up in Singapore, namely: WhiteCoat, Doctor Anywhere, Doctor World, MaNaDr and HiDoc, both iOS and Android versions are available.

Some of them also allow you to do a video call via their website, but most of the telemedicine providers here require you to download their app.

Who are the different telemedicine service providers in Singapore?

Currently, there are a total of 11 telemedicine service providers available in Singapore which bear the MOH Regulatory Sandbox stamp. Under MOH’s new LEAP scheme, these telemedicine service providers share data so MOH can better understand the evolution of this new sector.

  • WhiteCoat
  • Doctor Anywhere
  • MaNADr
  • SATA CommHealth
  • DoctorWorld
  • Parkway Shenton
  • MHC CarePlus
  • MyDoc
  • HiDoc
  • Speedoc
  • Rescu
Photo via Doctor World

6 out of the above 11 doctor apps offer online GP doctor consultation services for patients like you and I, namely: WhiteCoat, Doctor Anywhere, MaNaDr, SATA CommHealth, DoctorWorld and Parkway Shenton. Patients can download these doctor apps and contact a local doctor with just a few taps.

The other telemedicine providers fall in other more specialised categories. MyDoc and MHC CarePlus focus on corporate clients so you can use their services if your employer has paid for it under your company’s health benefits program.

If you’re looking for a specialist instead of a GP, HiDoc is your best bet. For a consult fee of $120, you can use HiDoc to consult medical specialists at the Singapore Medical Group via a video call.

Speedoc and Rescu both focus on mobile medicine, i.e. providing house call on demand. For example, patients can download the app to request for a house call from a Speedoc medical doctor, who then arrives armed with a medical bag stocked with basic medications and emergency drugs. These apps are useful for patients who require urgent medical attention and have mobility issues.

Are telemedicine services in Singapore expensive?

It may come as a surprise, but the cost of telemedicine consultations are almost on par — or slightly cheaper — than your usual GP consultation. A basic doctor consult via a doctor telemedicine app usually costs $20 to $25. These charges are more or less similar to what your neighbourhood GP charges. Some doctor apps charge separately for medicine and MC delivery.

If you compare it with polyclinic charges, telemedicine consultations are more costly. For example, a medical consultation starts from only $13.20 for Singapore citizens, but expect a long waiting time.

How much do doctor apps in Singapore like White Coat, Doctor World etc cost?

Telemedicine Doctor AppConsultation Cost (SGD)
 
WhiteCoat$25
Doctor Anywhere$20
MaNaDrVaries according to doctor
SATA CommHealth$15 + $6 medicine delivery
DoctorWorld$18
Parkway Shenton$19.26 + $10 medicine delivery
HiDoc$120 to consult a specialist
Source: Individual service provider’s websites

The lowest cost telemedicine service provider is Doctor World — an app that provides 24/7 on demand video consultations — at just $18, inclusive of medicine delivery. Medications are delivered to your doorsteps within 4 hours of your teleconsultation. It’s the cheapest rates out there currently for a virtual doctor consult. Do note that the consultation is capped at 15 minutes though. Its doctors on board are not bad — doctors most notably from the Raffles Medical chain of clinics, OmniMed Healthcare and Comfort Ambulances.

SATA CommHealth is also another extremely affordable option. With consultation costs at only $15 flat, you can opt to pick up your medications for free at one of their eight clinic branches peppered islandwide in Singapore. Otherwise, medication delivery is an additional $6. [6]

TL;DR: Telemedicine apps in Singapore

Here is the cost of doctor apps and telemedicine in Singapore in a snapshot:

Telemedicine ProviderServices

 
Consultation chargesOperating Hours
WhiteCoatVideo consultation via WhiteCoat app

(Adults and children)
Mon to Sat, 8am to 8pm: $25

After clinic hours: $50

 

 
24 hours
Doctor AnywhereVideo consultation via DA appAdults: $20

Newborns: $15

 
24 hours
SATA CommHealthVideo consultation via SATA app$15 + $6 medicine deliveryMon to Fri, 8:30am to 5pm
DoctorWorldVideo consultation$18

 

 
24 hours
MaNaDrVideo consultation via MaNaDr appVaries according to doctors

 

 
24 hours
Parkway ShentonVideo consultation via Shenton Medical app$19.26 + $10 medicine delivery

 
Mon to Fri; 9am to 5pm
HiDocVideo consultation with specialist doctor via HiDoc app

 
Initial consultation: $128.40 Follow-up: $85.60

 
-
Source: Individual service provider’s websites

How do I make payment for my teleconsultation?

For most telemedicine apps, you can easily make the payments via e-payments using debit/credit cards, NETS and PayNow. For house call services such as Rescu, they accept cash as well. You can check with the service provider directly with regards to your preferred payment methods. 

How do I get my medications and MC after my teleconsultation?

All the doctor apps provide medication delivery services, most of them with a delivery fee ranging from $6 to $10. In other words, your medications and MC can reach your doorsteps so you don’t have to leave your home at all. Sometimes, e-Medical Certificates will be given — you can check with your doctor during the teleconsultation, just to make sure.

Is the e-MC given during my teleconsultation a valid MC?

Of course! These are valid MCs issued by a qualified, registered doctor under the Singapore Medical Council, no different from the ones your neighbourhood GP issues. e-MCs are usually sent via email or available for download in-app. 

Can I get referral letters to see a specialist during my teleconsultation?

Yes, the doctors on the telemedicine apps are licensed under the Singapore Medical Council (SMC). They can issue referral letters for you to see a specialist or undergo laboratory testing whenever necessary.

Try telemedicine with a promo code.

Given that the concept of telemedicine in Singpaore is relatively new, some of these providers are running promotions in partnership with DBS/POSB credit cards. So if you do fall ill, you may want to take advantage of these promos to try out telemedicine for yourself!

Telemedicine AppPromoPromo Validity
WhiteCoat

 
$15 consultation fee14 Oct 2020
Doctor World$13 consultation fee with promo code DBSDW

 
31 Dec 2020
Hi Doc$72 to $108 for the initial consultation

$54 to $72 for follow up consultation

 
30 Jan 2021

Telemedicine tips: what to prepare and expect during your online consultation

Some teleconsultations have time limits (e.g. Doctor World has a limit of 15 minutes), after which you’ll have to pay more. Thus, it’s essential to get the most out of your 10 to 15 minutes!

Here are a few telemedicine tips so that you can come prepared:

  • Prepare in advance to describe your symptoms in detail. For a virtual consult, the doctor does not have any other cues to rely on that is present in face-to-face interactions. On the app, his remote diagnosis is limited to how articulate you are when you are describing your symptoms.
  • Standby photos you’d like to show your doctor during the teleconsultation; for example, photos of a skin rash or problem.
  • Have your medical history and allergies on hand.

If you’re unsure of what questions you should ask your doctor during a consultation, you can check out our free resource — Your Essential Doctor Visit Checklist — available for download currently.

The biggest allure of telemedicine is the sheer convenience it brings, especially in Covid-19 times. You wouldn’t really want to wait in turn for hours beside a wheezing patient at a crowded clinic in these times, would you? Sans the commuting and waiting, consulting a doctor online definitely saves us a bunch of time that many of us time-pressed Singaporeans would be grateful for.

As patients, we too should be smart about it and recognise both the pros and cons of this new healthcare platform. It’s always good to come prepared so that we can make the most out of our teleconsultation session and ensure it helps us get well.

Reference:

[1] Serper, M., & Volk, M. L. (2018). Current and Future Applications of Telemedicine to Optimize the Delivery of Care in Chronic Liver Disease. Clinical gastroenterology and hepatology : the official clinical practice journal of the American Gastroenterological Association16(2), 157–161.e8. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cgh.2017.10.004

[2] Quah, J. (2020). Telemedicine — Medical Goldmine or Minefield? Retrieved from SMA News, https://www.sma.org.sg/UploadedImg/files/Publications%20-%20SMA%20News/5201/Opinion%203.pdf

[3] Doctor World website — Teleconsultation FAQs. Retrieved from https://doctorworld.co/faqs/

[4] AIA website. Telemedicine — Professional consultation at your service. (2020). Retrieved from https://www.aia.com.sg/en/help-support/healthshieldsupport/our-partner-services/telemedicine.html

[5] Quah, J. L., Yap, S., Cheah, S. O., Ng, Y. Y., Goh, E. S., Doctor, N., Leong, B. S., Tiah, L., Chia, M. Y., & Ong, M. E. (2014). Knowledge of signs and symptoms of heart attack and stroke among Singapore residents. BioMed research international2014, 572425. https://doi.org/10.1155/2014/572425

[6] SATA CommHealth website — Operation Hours and Locations of Medical Centres. Retrieved from https://www.sata.com.sg/contact-us/operationhourslocationsofmedicalcentres/

Jen

View all posts by Jen

Jen is a food lover who is constantly looking forward to her next foodie adventure. Hardly anything can rival her love for Wagyu beef, bubble tea and sashimi. A strong believer of faith and human connections, she spends her weekends on things that make her smile – teaching young souls about life and delving in deep conversations about the topics that are dear to her heart.

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