COVID-19: Malaysia’s pandemic approaches and its impact on telehealth
In the fourth episode of the HIMSS APAC Digital Dialogue Series hosted by Dr Charles Alessi, HIMSS Chief Clinical Officer, guest speakers Professor Dr Tunku Kamarul Zaman bin Tunku Zainol Abidin, Director, University Malaya Medical Center (UMMC) and Dr Fazilah Shaik Allaudin, Senior Deputy Director, Medical Development Division, Ministry of Health (MOH) Malaysia spoke their respective organizations’ approach to containing the outbreak and discussed COVID-19’s impact on telehealth in Malaysia.
UMMC and MOH’s approaches to containing the pandemic
In terms of dealing with challenges and uncertainties caused by COVID-19, UMMC utilized integrated information systems to:
- Track and manage crucial supplies such as Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
- Manage healthcare workers and tracing their movements to minimize risk
- Optimize patient care and ensure that relevant information is delivered effectively
- Maintain surveillance of disease clusters and tracking treatment plans of patients
An important consideration that Professor Dr Tunku Kamarul Zaman mentioned was the psychological impact of COVID-19 on healthcare workers, which was brought up to him via his virtual meetings and interactions from their collaborators in China, such as Shanghai Jiao Tong University.
From the MOH’s perspective, one of the tools used in the multi-agency effort against the pandemic was the introduction of the MySejahtera app which was developed by the Malaysian government to assist in monitoring of COVID-19 outbreak in the country, Dr Fazilah explained. Some of the features of the app include COVID-19 health guidelines, information on the nearest health facilities and a COVID-19 hotspot tracker.
MySejahtera is linked to the MyTrace app, developed by Malaysia’s Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MOSTI) which enables the identification of those who have been in close proximity to an infected person using Bluetooth technology.
Malaysia’s 1997 Telemedicine Act
The Telemedicine Act 1997 is a Malaysian law that was enacted to provide for the regulation and control of the practice of telemedicine and for matters connected therewith. Addressing a participant’s question on how telehealth is being managed during the COVID-19 pandemic in the country, Professor Dr Tunku Kamarul Zaman clarified that telemedicine is very specific as it involves consultation, which has not happened yet. What has been done at UMMC is helping patients retrieve results online and arranging for home delivery of medicine for patients.
“With ‘true’ telemedicine that involves consultation and drugs prescription, we’ve been very careful with that as there are quite a number of regulatory issues we have to overcome and we having a six sessions’ debate on that within the university, looking at the fine print. In fact, the Telemedicine Act of 1997 has not been revised to today’s standards. In terms of telehealth, we started a few things but it is not the ‘pure’ telemedicine model,” Professor Dr Tunku Kamarul Zaman said.
Dr Fazilah added that the Telemedicine Act was more of a provider-to-provider kind of consultation, which needs to be revised and it was never really enforced. “We’re starting some work to look at the regulation of online health services but COVID-19 came and everything was accelerated. Right now, we’re following the Malaysian Medical Council (MMC)’s advisory, at least for the COVID-19 situation and they have put guidelines for virtual consultation with certain SOPs in place. For now, the MMC’s virtual consultation guidelines are enough but moving on post-pandemic, we really have to revise our Telemedicine Act and think about whether we are going to have new regulations or policies.”
“In terms of new policies for telemedicine and teleconsultations, I think the work has already started,” she concluded.
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