In 1997, the government launched the Telemedicine Blueprint — a move that was driven by a vision that one day, patients would no longer need to travel to see their doctors. They could just video call or chat with them
But the idea may have been a little ahead of its time. The internet was not as well developed nor were technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI) commonplace at the time.
“Back then, Skype was just being introduced. It was so grainy that I gave up after a while,” says Dr Wong Chee Piau, professor of paediatrics at Perdana University and founding member of the Telemedicine Development Group.
But technology has evolved and the ideas that were mooted more than two decades ago are still relevant.
“They had fantastic ideas and we are still talking about these now. One was the idea of establishing a personal lifetime health record. Their ideas were ahead of their time, and the technology was not able to keep up,” says Dr Wong.
Nowadays, telemedicine is only a small part of the larger realm of digital healthcare. Patients can monitor their heart rate and blood glucose levels with wearables, such as a patch or watch, while their doctors can monitor for abnormalities remotely. Patients can also contact their doctors via video call and get their prescriptions mailed to them. The latter (e-prescription) is already available at Putrajaya Hospital.