PETALING JAYA: Telemedicine could prove to be of great help in removing the stigma attached to reproductive and sexually transmitted diseases (STD), according to experts in the field.
They told FMT it would be easier to assure patients of their privacy.
According to the health ministry’s MyHealth portal, rates of chlamydia, genital warts and herpes have been steadily increasing in Malaysia, and this is attributed to improved awareness among the public and a greater willingness to get tested.
However, according to consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist Dr John Teo, many patients still resist seeking medical attention when faced with these problems.
“To deal with and manage sexual and reproductive health issues, accurate history taking as well as proper examination and investigation is vital,” he said. “Due to the sensitivity of the issues and intimate area of the body involved, professional consultation is often not sought out or is done very late.
”STDs can lead to complications such as infertility, heart disease and certain cancers and experts say it is important they are identified and managed early.
“The stigma surrounding STDs and sexual and reproductive health issues is a major barrier to the seeking of help,” Teo said. “As healthcare professionals, we need to decrease this stigma by being sensitive to these issues and helping to educate the public.
”He believes that if patients can be assured of their privacy and the security of their data, online consultations can be an effective way of helping them get legitimate advice as early as possible.
The founder of telemedicine service DoctorOnCall, Maran Virumandi, said the group’s proprietary video platform did not allow for video sharing or recording, meaning that consultations and data would be “totally confidential”. This could not be guaranteed with third party software like Zoom or Skype, he added.
He hopes the digitisation of medicine can help more people get timely treatment.
He said both virtual consultations and DoctorOnCall’s message board features had been popular with those seeking sexual health advice, showing that people were willing to reach out for help given the right context.
“A lot of people can be scared and confused when they think they have an STD,” he said. “So the best thing we can do is make it easy for them to understand, assure them of their privacy, give them their options and point them in the right direction.
”He said patients could get diagnosed and be prescribed medication immediately in some cases or be referred to a lab if further diagnostic testing was needed. Patients and doctors alike understood the limits of virtual examinations, he added.
“Part of the protocol we have is that we position the service as the first point of contact for patients, not the end all and be all.
”With so many people using digital technology and with the simplicity of telemedicine services, healthcare could become much easier to access and less of a hassle for people to seek, Maran said.
This applied to all types of medical issues, he added.