How does online consultation with a doctor work?
While specifics differ from doctor to doctor and from country to country, most virtual doctor visits follow the same basic process. It starts with making an online appointment. From there a doctor contacts you for a one-on-one chat via text, phone call or video call. Video consultation gives your virtual doctor a more accurate understanding of your symptoms.
During an online consultation, you can ask questions and talk to your doctor about what is bothering you. You should essentially treat the experience as you would treat any other doctor’s visit. While some virtual doctor services have timed visits, most consultations usually take about 10 to 15 minutes.
At the end of the consultation, your doctor will diagnose your condition and provide you with a personalized management plan. In some countries, this may include any necessary prescriptions. In other countries, doctors are not allowed to prescribe over the internet. In most developed countries, when you require a prescription, your doctor will send it to a pharmacy of your choice electronically and you will be able to walk into the pharmacy and pick it up at your convenience.
Digital and virtual health has been shown to improve access to healthcare for people who lack access to physicians and specialists. There is an uprising of startups in Cameroon that give patients access to physicians via a mobile device. But there are two main challenges/limitations to be wary of.
1, Most patients have the notion that virtual health replaces a physical consultation in a hospital and get disappointed when the physician referrers them to the hospital after a digital consultation. Patients should be made to understand that some medical conditions can only be properly diagnosed after a doctor examines you (through inspection, palpation, percussion, and auscultation), or after (laboratory) investigations. These cannot be done over a phone.
2, There is the existence of road-side drug stores that often sell ‘fake’ drugs at cheaper prices. There is a need for mobile Health and telehealth platforms in Cameroon and sub-Saharan Africa to establish partnerships with accredited pharmacies. This will allow physicians to send prescriptions directly to the pharmacy where patients can pick up their drugs and prevent patients from buying ‘fake’ drugs from road-side drug stores.
Dr. Dzekem is a physician, researcher and a health policy advocate. He obtained his Doctor of Medicine (MD) degree from the University of Buea and practiced as a primary care physician in Cameroon before moving to the University of Ibadan, Nigeria for post graduate studies and eventually to the United States as an Inaugural Obama Scholar where he obtained a Master in Public Health Policy and International Development, with focus on global health and health systems from the Harris School of Public Policy, University of Chicago. Dr. Dzekem has served as a speaker in international conferences, he is the author/co-author to several articles in peer-reviewed journals and a reviewer for the Cardiovascular Journal of Africa. He is the Co-founder and Executive Director of the Keafon Health. He has special interest in strengthening health systems and improving access to primary care in underserved communities.