Source: CNA News
Taipei, May 31 (CNA) COVID-19 has spiked in Taiwan in the past three weeks, leading to the shutdown of schools and many businesses and to people staying at home to prevent the further spread of the disease.
That has posed a dilemma for people with chronic illnesses who need access to care but fear that visiting a hospital that treats COVID-19 patients could be risky, even for an outpatient visit.
To resolve that dilemma, the National Health Insurance Administration (NHIA) introduced a "virtual medical treatment service" at designated medical centers, hospitals and clinics across Taiwan on May 20, soon after a Level 3 COVID-19 alert was put in place on May 17.
The service, which provides remote care via video conferencing or telephone, targets outpatients with chronic diseases or people in need of outpatient services, the NHIA said in a recent statement. (NHIA site on the information, in Chinese only)
It was set up to dissuade people from going to hospitals, particularly patients with chronic illnesses who need regular care.
Under the NHIA guidelines for video conferencing, people who are not in home isolation or home quarantine or not following protocols to manage their health should call the virtual services registration hotline of a participating hospital or make an appointment on its website for the virtual service if they need to see a doctor.
Patients with chronic diseases who need a follow-up visit can also have a session with a doctor by phone if the doctor deems the patient's condition to be stable, according to the guidelines.
The services will be available until the Level 3 alert is lifted.
The virtual and telephone services were introduced to reduce the high risk of exposure to infection among patients with chronic ailments, who are mostly elderly, NHIA official Han Pei-hsuan (韓佩軒) told CNA.
During questioning via video conferencing, the doctor will decide whether or not a hospital visit is required for a particular patient, Han said.
If a diagnosis can be made virtually, the doctor can write a prescription online for the patient.
Under some circumstances, a pharmacist at the hospital can prepare the prescription and deliver it to the patient and collect the registration fee and co-payment at the same time, or a family member can go to the hospital, pay for the care there, and pick up the prescription.
The NHIA, however, suggested that people first call a medical facility said to offer virtual medical services to check if the service is still available, because it could be canceled or restricted to certain patients at any time due to limited manpower.
The agency also suggested that people visit local clinics, where doctors can browse through a patient's medical and prescription history on the National Health Insurance MediCloud System and write prescriptions based on their diagnosis.
According to NHIA data, around 7.07 million patients with chronic diseases had refillable prescriptions in 2020. The agency advised this group to take advantage of the virtual service at a medical facility close to their home or where they usually refill their prescriptions.
A list of the medical facilities designated to offer virtual medical services and their hotlines is available on the NHIA official website, but in Chinese only.
Taiwan has been under a Level 3 alert since May 19, requiring people to wear masks outside their homes, banning gatherings of more than four people indoors and more than nine outdoors, and closing all schools until June 14.
Since May 16, there have been more than 200 new cases of domestically transmitted coronavirus infections reported every day.
The recent surge has caused the number of people dying of COVID-19 in Taiwan to rise to 124, including 112 in the past two weeks alone.