With the beginning of russia’s full-fledged invasion of Ukraine, we have all learned many truths, one of which is the unity of our people and the boundless desire to help each other. So far, we are all united on different fronts, which together ensure the functioning of our state.
At the time of preparing this article, according to official data from the Ministry of Health of Ukraine, more than 500 hospitals were damaged. Unfortunately, these figures are only increasing daily. An extremely important issue is how to provide the necessary medical care to people who have been forced to leave their homes. In order for Ukrainians to be able to receive medical care anywhere in the world, some domestic companies and brands were engaged in telehealth products development to provide remote medical advice. “BeKey”, in its turn, not only did not become an exception but also created its own initiative in the first weeks of the war (and we’ll talk about this later).
Experience of Telemedicine in Ukraine
Telemedicine began to develop in Ukraine in the early 2000s, starting with various “pilot projects” in Odessa, Dnipro, and Kharkiv regions. Later, private clinics became interested in it. At the national level, this was seriously discussed in 2018, when the country launched medical reform, which provides for many radical changes in the healthcare system, including telemedicine — in late 2017, according to the Law of Ukraine “On improving access to health care and its quality in rural areas”.
At present, in Ukraine, the use of telemedicine in the format of a “family specialist” is envisaged at the state level in order to enable primary care physicians to quickly obtain professional advice from narrow-profile colleagues. By the way, the procedure for the use of telemedicine between doctors has been prescribed in the order of the Ministry of Health since 2015.
The increase in demand for the use of digital technologies in health care is attributed to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. After all, it was at that time that the hospital became a place that could accelerate the spread of the disease rather than help cure it. This has prompted medical organizations around the world to go online. Although previously “remote” medical services were perceived negatively, the use of telemedicine has become a real solution. Recommendations for increasing the share of telemedicine services were stated in the order of the Ministry of Health: “... take measures to increase the share of medical care provided with the use of technology and measures used in the provision of medical care using remote means for the exchange of information in electronic form (provision of medical care using telemedicine)”, — an excerpt from the order of the Ministry of Health.
Online consultations are convenient, especially for patients who need constant medical supervision: for people with chronic diseases, patients who have recently been discharged from the hospital, people living in rural or other remote areas. And also — for those who were forced to leave their homes because of the war.
Today, in the Ukrainian market there are not many specialized companies, whose aim is secure telehealth platform development. However, the demand for telemedicine in post-pandemic Ukraine continues to grow. According to statistics of the National Health Service of Ukraine, the demand for online consultations during the first months of the russian-Ukrainian war was increasing 1.5 times, more than half of which were with narrow-profile doctors, the rest were therapists.
Why Telemedicine in Ukraine is not Easy (but Worth It)
Despite the popularity and number of advantages, there are still problems with the perception and implementation of telemedicine in the Ukrainian healthcare system. And here are the main ones:
Distrust. Some patients and physicians do not recognize telemedicine as a full-fledged reception, after which the doctor can make a proper assessment of the patient’s condition and prescribe treatment.
The difference in generations. The younger generation appreciates the convenience that comes with digital options. But the older generations are not so open to using these services.
Technical training. Doctors need to learn a new technology they have never worked with before.
The most important thing we need to understand is that all these problems can be solved. After all, when startupers, developers, clients, and doctors realize and experience all the benefits and conveniences of custom telehealth software development, then none of the above problems will stand in the way of using this technology. Ukrainian legislation should encourage the introduction of such technologies and bring people their benefits.
Development of Telehealth on the Example of Doctors4UA
Even the war declared by russia on February 24, 2022, is not a reason to refuse treatment. But Ukrainians have faced a number of challenges that they cannot be prepared for: some of them are almost constantly living in bomb shelters or subway, some are in the occupied territories without safe access to vital spheres, and some have moved to quieter cities or other countries, but don't know local language or the pricing of a hospital visit is too high. That’s why Doctors4UA was created to help everyone who needs it. The aim of the project is to give people who can’t visit a medical facility due to hostilities or other reasons the opportunity to contact specialized doctors and receive remote care. The reason for seeking advice, geographical location, availability of money, gender, and age do not matter.
Doctors4UA is available both through the website and mobile applications in Apple Store and Google Play: separately for doctors and separately for patients. Besides, there is an admin part that helps to manage all the consultations and schedule.
The platform works basically as a marketplace since we provide access to register for both patients and doctors. That doesn’t mean any person can just register as a doctor and start providing consultations. The project guarantees the qualification of doctors. Before providing services and accepting patients, the specialist must prove the qualification and upload any documents or certificates about his education (most often it’s a diploma from the university). Once the doctor completes the registration, our admin receives notification that there is a new application created for moderation. Only once he or she verifies all the information and completes registration, the doctor can actively use the platform, add a schedule and much more.
Healthcare workers often receive lots of requests in different messengers asking for a consultation, which is often very annoying since patients can text any time in the day and night. On our platform doctors can control the number of requests by creating a schedule, which is an important part of the system for both doctors and patients. Doctors set up the time, when they are available, and the length of the consultation. There is also a functionality to update the schedule later on.
To make doctors’ lives easier and help them come to the consultation prepared, the platform asks a patient to provide basic information about the cause of the appointment. Scheduled visits is an important functionality, but sometimes patients, especially during wartime, don’t have time to wait for a specific doctor and schedule an appointment. There is often a need for an urgent consultation, and Doctors4UA gives such functionality as well. Therapists and pediatricians can switch the toggle once they are online and ready to accept patients with urgent requests. Patients go to the line and wait, when one of the available doctors can start the consultation.
The application allows you to choose a convenient way of communication: chat, audio or video, it can be changed during the consultation. Even though a call with a doctor sounds like the best option, in some areas patients don’t have a strong Internet connection, so text format can help get medical help even in conditions of slow or unstable Internet connection. It is also possible to send media files, such as results of analyzes or photos of a rash, for instance, between the patient and the specialist.
To avoid excesses and misses of the visit by both “parties” of the process, there are several reminders implemented in the system: a timer appears 5 minutes before the scheduled reception time: also patients and doctors receive email reminders. If they installed a mobile app, they receive push notifications as well. At the end of the consultation, the doctor needs to complete recommendations, so the patient can easily find the list of meds prescribed during the consultation. On the other hand, the patient can leave a review and provide detailed feedback right after the consultation. So the platform is additionally not only a professional, but also a “people’s” quality indicator of the work of physicians.
Doctors from all over the world can volunteer their time and knowledge to provide free consultations to Ukrainians. We hope everyone, who really needs help, will get it with the help of Doctors4UA.
Of course, it is impossible to make accurate predictions during the war: there are different views on the future of telehealth in Ukraine. In fact, the right to affordable digital medicine in Ukraine will be won, like all other rights, on the battlefield. And while the Armed Forces of Ukraine acquire these rights, it is our duty to do everything possible to protect the lives and interests of digital startups in this field and users and to prove to the world community that even in such extreme conditions telehealth development in Ukraine is on the high level.
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