The iDoc Is In: Get Virtual Consults in Pharmacies

In an attempt to make regular consultations and doctor visits more convenient and accessible to patients, a local Singapore firm introduces remote consultations through “iDoc” from inside a booth of a pharmacy.

Through this innovation, any person who comes inside Unity Pharmacy in either Tampines One or Thomson Plaza can now be connected to/be seen by an iDoc physician through a remote connection. The iDoc physician will then make a diagnosis and issue a prescription on-the-spot.

Image Credit: NEC (Flickr)

Pharmacy-based Virtual Consults Now Possible with “iDoc”

However, if the physician feels that a virtual diagnosis would be insufficient for a particular consult, the patient will not be charged of the $15 consultation fee, but instead, he/she will be advised to visit a physical clinic for further assessment.

The inspiration behind iDoc is to provide more accessible and convenient means of rendering patient care through remote consultations, especially to patients “who already know what they want.”

According to Dr. Poh Pei Ghim, iDoc’s Chief Medical Informatics Officer, some patients make visits to the clinic for reasons such as getting prescription for contraceptive pills and/or travel medications.

By establishing iDoc booths inside a pharmacy, patients will have access to a wider range of medications, which are not usually available in (small) clinics. Dr Poh cited as an example that not all clinics would stock on a variety of contraceptive brands.

The firm currently employs the services of eight licensed physicians who see patients in a physical clinic in Hougang. Three of which, are working full-time and also offer telemedicine services.

The new service is in line with the Ministry of Health’s (MoH) effort to explore the efficacy of telemedicine in treating patients, with forward-looking plans to license such services under the enhanced Healthcare Services Act.

Labeled as a “regulatory sandbox,” the new scheme aims to provide services through new healthcare models within a controlled environment. Once proven effective and if the new services gain traction, these could easily transition to mainstream.

Other services under this scheme include smartphone apps such as WhiteCoat and RingMD which enable patients to consult doctors virtually or remotely, and request for medications to be delivered straight to their homes.

And while another pharmacy chain, Guardian, offers a similar service to that of iDoc’s – but for free and only employs the services of pharmacists and not doctors; the iDoc is different in such a way that it is the first of its kind to establish a tie-up between physicians and a physical pharmacy.

However, as diagnoses are only made through virtual consultations, where no physical examination is involved, doctors are extra cautious in providing this type of special service. Before the service had been developed, iDoc had gathered data regarding the types of cases which this particular service (telemedicine) can adequately cater to. Research data showed that 9 out of 10 patients with chronic conditions such as asthma, who may need to consult a doctor on a regular basis for a refill of their medications, can be treated in this manner.

On the other hand, this type of service is neither suited for emergency cases nor is offered to those who wish to extend their medical leave, and such cases will be constantly reviewed by doctors. For example, if telemedicine has been proven ineffective or inapplicable in treating a particular condition, then iDoc could elect to handle such cases through a physical consult explained Dr. Poh.