OVP to tap more doctors for mental health, other concerns in COVID-19 response
MANILA, Philippines — It was supposed to be a help-slash-hotline for COVID-19 patients and those experiencing symptoms, but the Bayanihan E-Konsulta initiative of the Office of the Vice President (OVP) has now morphed into one of the country’s primary telemedicine avenues.
This is also the reason why Vice President Leni Robredo announced on Sunday that her office would be looking for more volunteer doctors, including those from other specializations — to address other concerns such as mental health, and obstetrics, and gynecology.
“Maybe later today or tomorrow, I will again make a call for more volunteer doctors because there are specializations that we need. For example, we need more psychiatrists and psychologists,” Robredo said in Filipino in her weekly program at DZXL.
“The problem of mental health is that consultations are long. So the number of people that we serve in a day is really limited. Our waitlist has grown long,” she added.
Robredo also admitted that the Bayanihan E-Konsulta initiative as of now was still far from perfect, with a lot of problems caused by backlog and not being able to respond as quickly because of limitations in technology.
“The system is not yet perfect because, you know, we are just low tech… We deliberately chose to be like that because we want even those who have no internet connection to approach us. But the there are a lot of problems if you’re low tech,” Robredo explained.
“There are a lot of problems if you use Facebook Messenger because it’s hard to do manually. It’s also hard to go on full automation. So our problem with the system is that we miss some things,” she added.
This is even if OVP’s project has over 600 medical professionals as volunteers, and over 1,900 other volunteers doing non-medical stuff like answering calls, coordinating with hospitals, and delivery of medical items, and sometimes, responding to emergency situations.
According to Robredo, her office has been receiving thousands of consultation requests per day, having started round-the-clock operations. A lot of the questions have been unanswered — prompting her to apologize for the late replies.
“For example, during the weekend, we stop this is the time when we return to our backlog. But we still miss some things. In fact, there are people who tag me on Twitter, on Facebook saying that they message two days ago and until now we have not been answered,” she said.
“Our plan was simple. Our plan was that if there are those who could not go to a hospital or could not talk to a doctor, they should message us and we will link them to a doctor. But now, because of so many people who come to us, things have branched out and we have so many needs,” she added.
Last April 14, Robredo’s spokesperson, Barry Gutierrez, admitted in a radio interview that the system, as noble as it was, was not perfect as they had not addressed all message requests from the people.
Gutierrez admitted that the initiative would be better if the national government adopted this kind of program, as the Department of Health has more resources that could respond to the need for telemedicine consultations.
The OVP’s Bayanihan E-Konsulta was activated after Metro Manila, Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna, and Rizal were placed under an enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) due to the recent COVID-19 surge.
The initiative’s purpose is to avoid overwhelming hospitals by having medical professionals assess the needs of patients online, reducing hospital visits especially as the region faced COVID-19 bed shortages.
It also serves as a link between patients and hospitals, with the help of the One Hospital Command Center, as OVP finds hospitals that are not yet in full capacity.
Active COVID-19 cases in the country dropped down further to 77,075, even if the Department of Health (DOH) reported 8,162 additional COVID-19 cases.
Still, the country remains to have one of the worst outbreaks in the Southeast Asian region. Currently, the country is just less than 2,500 new cases shy of hitting the one million mark for confirmed infections.
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