© CHMF/Carlston Cobar

15.03.2022

Philippines: visiting the doctor online

Travel within the island nation is difficult, especially under COVID-19 conditions. Digital services such as video consultations are enabling health care provision even on the most remote islands.

When a person is in pain, they usually go to the doctor. That is easier said than done in the Philippines. The country in the Western Pacific is made up of more than 7,600 islands. For many, it is too difficult and too expensive to travel to distant hospitals. Only about half of the country’s population of almost 110 million has access to health care services. The COVID-19 crisis has further exacerbated this situation by making travel even more arduous. At the same time, the pandemic has shown that digital health services offer great potential for health care provision.

High-quality health services via smartphone

The Cooperative Health Management Federation (CHMF), popularly known as 1COOPHealth in the Philippines, has therefore been working with the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH to expand its portfolio to include virtual components. GIZ’s contribution includes supporting the development of software and production of teaching materials. The project, which is funded by the German Development Ministry (BMZ) as part of the develoPPP programme*, offers patients services such as video and audio consultations with medical professionals, thus negating the need for many stressful trips from island to island to see a doctor. Moreover, contactless online consultations reduce the risk of infection.

The high-quality digital health services primarily benefit people with little money and those who avoid long, strenuous journeys. Patient Patricia Danielle Soliman is grateful for the new services: ‘Thanks to video consultations, I can easily get professional medical help whenever I need it. And all I need is my smartphone.’

The entire health sector stands to benefit

For telemedicine (i.e. the provision of remote health care services for patients) to work, you require the right technical solutions. CHMF is currently on the ground ensuring that its members are able to access the solutions offered by a local provider, including services such as video and audio consultations. So far, 15,000 people have registered in the system the solution/application. More than 600 people have used the virtual counseling, more than half of them were women (64.4 per cent). Looking to the future, it is developing its own software for telemedicine as part of the project with GIZ. The aim is for the entire health sector in the Philippines to benefit from digitalisation in the future. CHMF would like to make its software and knowledge available to other health insurers and health care providers. The software will therefore be open source, meaning that others will be able to use and further develop the program free of charge. After all, telemedicine can improve the lives of many people in other countries, too. As Donna Garcia from CHMF points out, quick and easy access to medical advice is often just as important as local treatment.

*develoPPP is a funding programme initiated by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). It is aimed at companies that want to invest sustainably in a developing or emerging country and expand their local operations. Prerequisites for support are a long-term business interest in the country and a sustainable development benefit for the local people.

GIZ is one of two organisations implementing the programme on behalf of BMZ.