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COVID. Quarantine. Isolation. Explained.

COVID. Quarantine. Isolation. Explained.

COVID, quarantine, isolation are words which we have heard for the last eight months, but do you know what exactly they mean and how they all differ? Let’s take a look. 

 A little background hurts no one

COVID-19 is an infectious disease caused by a group of viruses called coronavirus. Coronavirus means a crown, and it gets its name from its structure. The virus looks like it has a crown around it.

There are many different types of coronaviruses, and they infect a wide range of mammals and birds. Some even cause mild respiratory disease in people every year, so coronaviruses are not new. However, the virus that causes COVID-19 is new. 

SARS-CoV-2 causes COVID-19, and it originated from bats. The virus has been present in bats for a long time, but now the virus has evolved to be able to infect humans and be transmitted between humans. This is the 3rd type of coronavirus that has developed in the same manner. The earlier two coronaviruses caused Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in 2012 and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2003.

Symptoms of COVID-19

Symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, cough, sore throat, tiredness, headache, loss of taste and smell and many others. The combination of symptoms and the severity of them varies from person to person and within regions. The most common symptom seen in patients with COVID-19 is cough, fever and loss of taste. However, most who have the virus may be asymptomatic, showing no symptoms at all and can still infect those around them.

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms call 1390 or use the COVID-19 self-assessment on the oDoc app to understand your symptoms and measures you need to take.  

How does COVID-19 get transmitted so rapidly from one person to the other? 

The virus in infected individuals lives in their respiratory tract, in their mouths, noses, and throats. 

There are two ways transmission of the virus can take place between individuals. 

  • When an infected person speaks, laughs, sneezes or coughs the virus can spread in forms of droplets. This droplet can be inhaled by non-infected people, thereby infecting them.
  • Likewise, the droplets can land and live on surfaces, and when a non-infected person touches these surfaces and then goes on to touch their nose, mouth or eyes, the virus can be transmitted into the non-infected person, thereby infecting them. 

Something to keep in mind is that SARS-CoV-2 is transmitted very easily. So this virus is transmitted between people in ways that make it very difficult to detect and prevent. People are infectious before they have symptoms, so they may be infecting others and not even know it. 

How? 

Keep reading!

The infection – a timeline

Let’s say, on day 1, a person gets infected, and enters the incubation period. 

Incubation period – the time between contracting the virus and starting to show symptoms. An infected person  cannot transmit the disease to others during this period. The incubation period for COVID-19 lasts from 2-14 days with an average of about five days, and then the infected person  enters the infectious period. 

The incubation period for this particular individual lasts 14 days, so they will start showing symptoms on day 14. Day 1 of symptoms  (day 14 of the incubation period in this case) is when they are most infectious. An important thing to note is, even though signs only show itself on day 14, the infectious period begins two days before symptoms show (day 12). 

Infectious period – when the infected person  can transmit the virus to others. The infectious period starts two days before the infected person starts showing symptoms. An infectious person  needs to be isolated, and anyone who comes into contact with them needs to be quarantined. 

The infectiousness of an individual gradually decreases with time. A person is said to be completely free of COVID-19 only when they don’t show any signs of fever for more than 24hrs, and symptoms get better.  In Sri Lanka, a patient is only declared as recovered if the PCR test comes out negative. 

Mild COVID-19 illness can last for about ten days, whereas severe conditions last for more than two weeks. 

Aren’t quarantine and isolation the same thing?

Contrary to popular belief, they are very different. 

When an individual is tested positive for COVID-19, they need to be isolated. This is practised to keep infected individuals away from the healthy population. Isolation period is usually up to 10 days or until signs, and symptoms get better or no sign fever for 24hrs. 

If an individual comes in contact with someone who has tested positive but hasn’t developed any symptoms themselves, they need to be quarantined. This helps prevent spread of disease that can occur before a person knows they are sick or if they are infected with the virus without feeling any symptoms. An individual needs to quarantine themselves for 14 days from the day they came in contact with the positively tested person. 

Suppose you live with a person who has tested positive and is isolating themselves in the same house/ shares communal space with you. In that case, you need to quarantine for the period they are isolating themselves and an additional 14 days from the last day they showed symptoms and signs of COVID-19. 

For example, if your family member tested positive on the 1st of November and recovered on the 14th of November, your quarantine will only end on the 28th of November (14 days from family members recovery). 

The future 

Until a vaccine or treatment for COVID-19 is found and distributed it is up to each one of us to follow safety protocols given by the government to keep ourselves and our local communities safe. Following the DREAM guidelines set out by the government is vital as we slowly resume into normalcy. Adjusting to the new normal may be difficult and frustrating but it is important that we avoid crowded places and gatherings in the near future. It is in our own hands to ensure the safety of ourselves and our loved ones. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms quarantine yourself and call 1390 immediately or use the COVID-19 self-assessment on the oDoc app to understand your symptoms and measures you need to take.

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Understanding Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Understanding Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Understanding Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Our little island nation has experienced much trauma in our long history, this last year and a half being no exception. With the devastating Easter Sunday attacks last year and the current COVID-19 pandemic, many of us are dealing with the loss of loved ones and the stress of financial instability. As COVID-19 cases continue to rise, the government has imposed curfews or severe restrictions on movement. The aftereffects of these actions have challenged Sri Lankans, some of us harder than others. 

Historically, Sri Lanka has not placed enough emphasis on the role of the emotional impact of traumatic events such as these on a person’s psyche. Our system lacks sufficient psychological & psychiatric support for people who’ve lived through traumatic circumstances, be it through the stress of the pandemic, Easter Sunday attacks, the 30 year long civil war that devastated our nation or the abuse happening in our own homes. 

To that end, we’ve compiled a short primer on one of the most prevalent disorders that arise out of such events in the hope that it will prove of worth to help a loved one or your own self. 

What is PTSD? 

People who have lived through a traumatic event can find themselves experiencing emotional challenges long after the event has taken place. 

PTSD can develop after either a single isolated event or more recurring traumatic experiences. 

Not everyone who has undergone a traumatic event is likely to suffer from PTSD. Some may have strong feelings of sadness, stress, helplessness or fear but these symptoms can lessen over time as they continue to heal. However, a person who struggles with PTSD can experience symptoms that continue to cause them significant emotional disturbances and distress. 

Symptoms of PTSD

A person who maybe suffering from PTSD may have 4 main types of difficulties:

  1. Re-living the traumatic event – the person relives the event through recurring nightmares or memories and feels as though the event were happening again. They can have strong physical responses such as increased heart rate, sweating or panic. 
  2. Avoiding reminders of the event – The person actively avoids thoughts, feelings, conversations, even people and places that remind them of the traumatic event. 
  3. Being overly alert – The person may experience sleeping difficulties, irritability, lack of concentration, becoming easily startled and constantly on the lookout for danger. 
  4. Feeling emotionally numb – the person may feel distant from others, a loss of interest in day to day activities and experience difficulty in positive feelings such as happiness or love. 

If these symptoms persist for longer than a month and are not due to medication, substance use or other illness, it is likely that the person is suffering from PTSD.

Coping with PTSD

Many people suffering from PTSD turn to unhealthy coping strategies such as alcohol or drug abuse or deliberate self-harm. As such, it is important to seek out a qualified professional to speak with – this may help bring back hope through the sharing of experience and helping learn healthy & effective ways of coping. 

What can I do to help if I see a loved one suffering from PTSD? 

Finding ways to support a loved one with PTSD can be complicated but one of the most helpful things you can do yourself is learn about the symptoms and trials of living with PTSD. Familiarising yourself with what your friend or family member is going through can make it easier for them to have conversations. 

Actively listening to your loved one instead of trying to “fix” their problems is helpful. Just give them a safe space free of judgement and criticism. 

Encouraging your loved ones to seek help from a trained professional is of paramount importance. There are also many online support groups in Sri Lanka (links below) that can help your loved one connect with others who may be going through similar traumatic experiences. 

What does PTSD look like in children? 

Adults are not the only ones to suffer from PTSD and given the recent cases of child abuse in the news with perhaps countless cases happening behind closed doors, it is useful to understand how we can determine whether a child is suffering from PTSD. Symptoms vary depending on age as described below. 

Preschool/Kindergarten

  • Cry or scream a lot
  • Eat poorly due to loss of appetite
  • Experience nightmares of night terrors
  • Overwhelming fear of being separated from parent or caregiver

School age

  • Have a hard time concentrating at school
  • Experience insomnia or nightmares
  • Have feelings of guilt or shame
  • Very anxious or fearful in certain situations

Teens

  • Eat poorly
  • Self-harm
  • Feels depressed or alone 
  • Takes alcohol or drugs
  • Engage in risky sexual behavior
  • Make impulsive dangerous decisions

How can we help children suffering from PTSD? 

Try to keep your child’s schedules and lives as similar as possible to before the traumatic event. This might mean having your child continue with school and other activities with little time off in the beginning. 

Let them talk about the traumatic experience when and if they feel ready. Encouragement and praise helps them talk about their feelings but be careful not to force the issue if they don’t feel like sharing. If not through speaking, drawing and writing may help. 

Validate and reassure them that their feelings are normal. 

Seek out professional help immediately if you have any concern that a child has thoughts of self-harm. Thoughts of suicide are serious at any age and should be treated right away.

Build their self-confidence by encouraging them to make everyday decisions where appropriate. Children suffering with PTSD can feel powerless and helpless, so making decisions, however minor, can help them get control over some parts of their lives. 

Tell them that the traumatic incident is not their fault. They can talk about their feelings of guilt or shame but don’t let them blame themselves. 

Stay in touch with caregivers. It’s important to talk to teachers, babysitters, and other people who are involved in your child’s life.

Resources & References

Sri Lankan Resources

You can get in touch with medical professionals on the oDoc app who are trained to help people suffering from PTSD. You can even purchase an oMind subscription package which gives you unlimited access to mental health professionals. 

http://www.pulse.lk/everythingelse/psychological-support-sri-lanka/

http://marcelderoos.com

http://www.themorning.lk/the-ohana-project-leaving-no-one-behind/

Information

https://www.beyondblue.org.au/the-facts/anxiety/types-of-anxiety/ptsd

https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/ptsd.html

https://www.verywellmind.com/an-overview-of-ptsd-2797638

Online Support Groups

https://www.reddit.com/r/ptsd

https://www.myptsd.com

https://www.7cups.com

https://www.betterhelp.com

PTSD Blogs

http://www.healmyptsd.com

https://psychcentral.com/disorders/ptsd/

https://ptsdblogger.com

Mindfulness Apps

https://www.developgoodhabits.com/best-mindfulness-apps/

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Breaking out of the cycle of anxiety

Breaking out of the cycle of anxiety

Sudden heaviness in the chest, an unsettled feeling you can’t place, your heart beating over time and you feel frozen in the moment. Hands start to clam up, your gut feels funny and breathing becomes short and shallow. 

For over 280 million people around the world suffering from an anxiety related disorder, this is often a reality. Triggered by a sound, a photograph, a smell, a memory – the options that revert our bodies back to the ancient fight or flight mode are endless.

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is defined by the American Psychological Association as “an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure.” Normal feelings of anxiety are common given the complex situations we find ourselves in however it is important to identify the difference between regular anxiety and an anxiety disorder to seek the help we need.

Anxiety is an important emotion to keep us safe from harmful situations – since the ancient days, when our ancestors encountered a dangerous situation, e.g. a sabre-tooth tiger, an internal danger alarm has been triggered. The alarm releases a rush of the hormone adrenaline in the brain and adrenaline’s main task is to facilitate the “flight or fight response” against the impending threat. 

Noticable signs of the flight or fight response is an elevated heartbeat, sweating and increased sensitivity to surroundings. Blood is diverted away from processes such as digestion towards the muscles of the limbs to allow the body to flee the situation if needed.

The limbic system

The limbic system is a group of brain structures (i.e. hippocampus, amygdala, hypothalamus) that work to elicit our behavioral and emotional responses, in particular those we’ve required for survival from ancient times (i.e. eating, sleeping, taking care of our young, staying alive).

When our eyes see danger, they send information to the amygdala which is responsible for emotional processing. The amygdala processes the information and if there is perceived danger, it sends a signal to the hypothalamus (or the command centre). The hypothalamus communicates with the rest of the body by releasing hormones that affect the autonomic nervous system. It can either push gas to the pedal via the sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system OR it can press the brakes via the parasympathetic branch. When sensing danger, its gas to the pedal via release of adrenaline (hormone) to trigger the flight or fight response to give the body enough energy to flee the danger. 

All this feels like: increased heart rate, more blood to muscles, heart and other vital organs, higher blood pressure, quicker breaths to allow more oxygen uptake, senses become sharper. And all this can happen in a second which is why before you’ve even truly clocked onto the car that’s coming at you, you’ve already jumped out of its way.

When does it become a problem?

So whilst the limbic system controlled flight or fight response may no longer be required to flee from predators, sustained exposure to modern day stressors like traffic jams, work pressure or family issues could cause the stress response to overfire and result in an anxiety disorder. 

As a result, some people become stuck in a cycle of stress which they are unable to break leading to chronic stress. Chronic stress or anxiety results in elevated levels of certain hormones that can harm the body in the long run. 

5 tips to break the cycle

As the limbic system reflex is so quick that we suddenly feel all the reactions in our bodies before we even know what’s happened, it’s important to rely on the basics to activate the parasympathetic nervous system (“PNS” or the brakes) which literally calms your body. The focus is on activating the vagus nerve (one of the main nerves of the body and part of the PNS) which has an effect on the breath, heart rate and digestive system and vice versa.

Here are five tips that are known to help calm the brain during episodes of anxiety:

1. Take deep breaths

Given the shallow breathing that’s associated with anxiety, taking the time to focus on taking deep breaths allows the body to stop the sympathetic nervous system in its tracks. This pause two fold benefits: 1) deep breathing stimulates the vagus nerve and 2) focussing on the breath allows the mind to hone in on a repetitive soothing pattern. 

Close your eyes if possible. Inhale for a count of 3, opening up your rib cage as the air flows in (like its a balloon), hold the breath for a count of 3 and slowly exhale through the nose for a count of 3.

Can be done anywhere you feel anxiety is being triggered: in the car, in the middle of a meeting or whilst shopping. 

 

2. Hum or sing to yourself (or to others!)

As the vagus nerve is connected to your larynx (or vocal chords) and the muscles of your throat, the gentle vibrations associated with humming activates these muscles and stimulates the nerve. Humming also forces you to control your breath and we know how much this helps!

 

3. Exercise

Physical activity is important for a myriad of reasons and helping you break the stress cycle is just one of the many. Exercise releases our happy hormones, or endorphins which counteract the effect of elevated adrenaline in the body. Physically moving the body allows for the dissipation of the built up tension in the muscles but also forces the body to breath deeply. 


4. Journal

Making your mind stop and take notice of the present helps it re-evaluate the threat level (and often realise, there’s nothing around to truly trigger this response). However, if there is something that is triggering the response, journaling also helps provide perspective to yourself. 

Take a note pad, a piece of paper or even your phone and write out everything you are feeling and thinking. Continue till you have written it all out. The act of writing takes our thoughts out of our mind and acts as a form of release. 


5. Speak to someone

Counsellors and psychologists are trained to help us decipher our thoughts, patterns and behaviours in a way that’s not possible alone. They provide perspective, ask questions and customise activities to help us break out of cycles that are causing us harm. 

With oDoc you can speak to a certified counsellor, psychologist or mental health professional from the safety and privacy of your own home via our app. 

2020 has been a year that has thrown most of our plans in the year, created numerous situations that could trigger anxiety and as such, what you feel is perfectly okay. You are, after all, human. Having to continue to suffer under the hand of an invisible threat is not the best way to live your life. Take hold of these ideas, speak to a professional and take control of your mind, body and your life! We are rooting for you!

 

Sources

The Limbic System, Queensland Brain Institute  

Understanding the Stress Response, Harvard Health Publishing

Calming Your Brain During Conflict, Harvard Business Review

This Might be the Simplest Scientific Way to Get Rid of Stress You’ve Ever Heard Of, Inc Publishing

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Connecting low-income earners in Southeast Asia to doctors through mobile-based telemedicine services

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A Risk-Free Diagnosis

A Risk-Free Diagnosis

COVID-19 brought us a lot of challenges we’ve had to overcome. Businesses and industries are struggling to find ways to continue operating while adjusting to the ‘new normal’. However, where there are challenges, there is also innovation and opportunity. With conventional ways to conduct business challenged, interest in digital platforms for business has increasingly grown, with many new enterprises taking advantage of this ‘step forward’. It has also allowed existing platforms to take centre stage and provide their services to aid the public in these trying times. 

One major issue that has arisen from the ongoing pandemic is the challenge of getting decent medical care without being at risk of contracting COVID-19. Although the pandemic is the largest medical concern in the country at the moment, it doesn’t mean that it is the only disease that requires people to seek medical treatment. 

However, because of how potent COVID-19 is in spreading when people gather together, many are now afraid to seek medical consultation for illnesses they have in fear of being exposed to the virus. 

Doctors are also at high risk of being exposed to the virus, which brings a significant health risk to their lives and families. Getting medical help and consultation when needed in areas that are under lockdown could be problematic as well, because of the restrictions and regulations in place. 

Just as many other occasions, technology has given us the solution to navigate around many of these complications and problems we face today. 

Telemedicine 

In a basic sense, telemedicine is when patients consult doctors and get clinical services without meeting face-to-face. Calling the doctor to get some medical advice can be considered a form of telemedicine in this sense. 

Even though telemedicine has only been prevalent in Sri Lanka in a primitive manner, the concept has been taken to greater heights in many countries around the world. The advent of broadband internet, 4G and now 5G continue to help scientists and medical technology developers push the envelope on what we can do within the medical world, including telemedicine. 

Such technology has become more relevant than it has ever been before thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

oDoc 

Would you be surprised to know that telemedicine has already made its way to Sri Lanka in a more polished and refined package than it was before? 

oDoc is one such telemedicine platform that began its operations in 2017 and has been steadily growing. The service connects doctors and patients who use it by enabling them to connect with each other using modern technology and an internet connection. This means you can get the medical attention you need without having to step out of your home, to deal with waiting in lines, exposing yourself to other diseases, and the other hassles that come alongside appointments with a doctor. 

In the present, using the oDoc mobile application gives you the opportunity to consult with a doctor in three minutes or less (a service available all 24 hours a day), and lays claim to a network of over 400 medical professionals, ranging from general practitioners to paediatricians and even psychiatrists. oDoc ensures that all their doctors are registered with the Sri Lanka Medical Council (SLMC) and have over five years of experience practicing medicine. 

oDoc doesn’t limit itself only to medical consultation. It also provides electronic prescriptions and even has your medicine delivered to your home, if that is your wish. 

Although these services are available in Sri Lanka already, the concept of a telemedicine platform may be new to many in Sri Lanka. There might also be misconceptions about its efficacy and capability in treating patients when compared to the more traditional face-to-face consultation. Even doctors might feel apprehensive of utilising telemedicine because of various circumstances. 

Nevertheless, telemedicine services such as oDoc can play a major role in providing the medical care people need without the risk of contracting COVID-19. 

Ceylon Today had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Sabith Salieh who has been using oDoc to learn more about how telemedicine services such as oDoc can assist in providing the basic healthcare.

Discovering oDoc 

Dr. Salieh has been practicing medicine for over 13 years, with11 of them spent in Singapore. After returning to Sri Lanka in 2017, he was introduced to oDoc through a friend who was one of the co-founders of the platform and was interested in the concept of telemedicine and its impact in the field of primary medicine (basic medical care from general physicians). Since then, he has continued to use oDoc as a platform to connect with patients and provide value-added medical care for his patients. Dr. Salieh had this to say about his view on telemedicine and oDoc. 

“Telemedicine is something that has changed with the advancement of mobile technology quite a bit. I believe it will revolutionise primary healthcare.” 

He then continued to explain why he believes so. 

All about convenience 

“Today, everything is about consumer convenience. With the busy lives we live today, people don’t have the time to go to a clinic, wait in line and see the doctor. You’re basically putting your life on hold during that time. That entire process can take more than an hour or two out of your day. People have things to do! It’s inconvenient as well, especially if they are not well and are having a rough time. What telemedicine platforms such as oDoc does is cut away all that unnecessarily wasted time and inconvenience, letting you get access to a doctor with only a few clicks or taps on a screen. You can even have your prescription delivered to your home.” 

Needless to say, a platform such as oDoc truly shows its value during this ongoing pandemic. 

”Definitely,” Dr. Salieh confirmed. “COVID-19 was a catalyst to the already growing user-base for oDoc. This pandemic and the subsequent lockdowns really showed how useful telemedicine can be.” 

Slow adoption due to misconceptions 

Convenient as telemedicine may be, it’s evident that the adoption of the technology isn’t at the rate many would expect of a service that promises such convenience. 

“There is still the misconception that to get a proper diagnosis, you have to physically be in a clinic and that the doctor cannot come up with a diagnosis otherwise. However, if you look at the statistics from the world, results will say otherwise.” 

Dr. Salieh explained that in fact, the only difference between a visit to the clinic and using telemedicine platforms such as oDoc is that the doctor cannot do preliminary inspections such as checking the pulse, feeling the abdomen or listening to the heart and lungs using the stethoscope. 

Although at first it may seem to be a disadvantage, Dr. Salieh told us that with proper doctor-patient communication and knowing the medical history of the patient, a physician can still provide decent medical care to a great extent. 

Using oDoc 

After going through the user interface of oDoc, we found the oDoc mobile application which is available on both the Google Play Store and Apple App Store intuitive, fluid and overall well developed. It’s user-friendly, meaning that if you are new to the service, there is plenty of guidance to help you figure things out. 

Dr. Salieh told us more about his experience as a doctor when adapting to telemedicine. 

”I learnt about telemedicine in my years as a medical student, but telemedicine is something I only started to adopt once I was here in Sri Lanka. It was something that was new to me. But as doctors we have to continuously evolve and I wanted to see how I could make it a part of my consulting.” 

Dr. Salieh told us that he was not alone in that learning curve. Alongside his personal efforts to learn and adapt to telemedicine through his own efforts, he was supported by the oDoc team and their careful guidance and advice in making the transition. 

”I read up about it and the oDoc team did very well in explaining the system, clarified my questions and guided me to learn the system and how it works. They had done all the groundwork needed and kept improving their system regularly based on input by the doctors who were using oDoc. The team was very focused on making sure that patient safety was given the utmost importance.” 

Replacement or enhancement? 

If telemedicine does become ‘the new norm’ in healthcare, we could see a future where we don’t have to worry about waiting in lines to get a medical consultation, fitting doctor’s appointments in our busy schedules or even worry about falling ill and being unable to find basic medical advice while overseas. In fact, all these are now realities with telemedicine platforms.

It has even become an effective way to curb the pressure on doctors to ‘speedrun’ their consultations because of patients waiting in line for their turn.

With so many benefits from telemedicine continuing to become more relevant each day, the question arises if this is the future of healthcare. Would telemedicine continue to evolve until it comes to a point where we no longer need to consult a doctor face-to-face? Dr. Salieh helped us come to an answer.

“When it comes to primary medicine, if you look at what we treat; flu, viral infections, diarrhoea, food poisoning, headaches, migraines – these can be easily treated through telemedicine. If further tests are needed, all the patient needs is to get them done and upload the results into the system and we can have a follow-up. Whenever a doctor ever feels a physical examination is needed, he can refer them to a face-to-face consultation without additional cost for the patient using oDoc.

“As for patients with health conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure, who require regular follow-ups, all they need to do is get the necessary tests done, upload it to the system and I can consult with them without the patient ever needing to ever step inside the clinic. The patient and the doctor can properly communicate and have their regular follow-ups without the pressure of having to treat the next patient in line. Also, both the doctor and patient can communicate and maintain a continuous providing of care without the limitation of a clinic through a professional, secure platform.”

Essentially, all this means is that telemedicine platforms such as oDoc provide a unique facility where patient-doctor communication is enhanced, while addressing many of the constraints of our traditional consultation model in clinics. Like in many instances where technology comes into play, telemedicine services such as oDoc provide the capacity to enhance the doctor-patient connection.

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HUTCH – oDoc partnership revolutionizes Sri Lankan telemedicine

HUTCH – oDoc partnership revolutionizes Sri Lankan telemedicine

HUTCH, Sri Lanka’s preferred choice for mobile broadband services has partnered with the leading telemedicine service provider oDocbringing24/7 online video GP consultation services directly to the mobile of every Hutch subscriber within three minutes of booking. oDoc real-time virtual consultations minimize the need to physically be present at hospitals/clinics to get medical advice reducing the risk of catching COVID thereby assisting in the country’s pandemic prevention measures.

With Hutch-oDoc service, customers will be protected during the pandemic from unnecessary exposure to infections by reducing time spent at hospitals and clinics. Particularly indispensable for patients or caretakers of patients in the vulnerable populations: senior or immunocompromised who may not feel comfortable visiting hospitals/clinics. Customers will no longer need to waste time travelling or inside waiting rooms for physician channeling and they do not need to rush to hospitals with their infants on minor ailments.

Customers living in remote areas with limited access to medical services can also make use of this service to access quality healthcare from Colombo whilst eliminating their medical related travel costs to Colombo.

The milestone partnership brings oDoc’s top quality virtual video and audio GP consultation services at a very affordable subscription rate of only Rs. 99+taxes per month. Through this service, Customers can avail of unlimited medical consultations at any time of the day from the comfort of their homes. Hutch subscriber can subscribe to this service via dialing *6363#.

Customers that prefer over the phone consultations may also request a callback using the *6363# USSD code. Once requested, a GP will call the user within just three minutes.

oDoc physicians are authorized to issue over the phone prescriptions after detailed online medical consultations of the customer. In a matter of few minutes, customers can access over 600 doctors from the new Hutch-oDoc service.

Having launched the island-wide telemedicine service together with the Ministry of Health (MoH) and Information and Communication Technology Agency of Sri Lanka (ICTA), oDoc’s mission is to uplift national healthcare. oDoc’s partnership with HUTCH enables it to provide medical services to a wider section of society by leveraging HUTCH’s mass subscriber-base that is continuously offered with latest high quality value added services.

Commenting on the new partnership, HUTCH CEO, Thirukumar Nadarasa said: “HUTCH is a socially responsible company that addresses the concerns of the public. Our fullest support is given to such initiatives of taking affordable virtual healthcare to all homes across the nation. Telemedicine has evolved to be a mainstay in healthcare and has become even more critical in the face of COVID19. We at HUTCH are proud to partner with oDoc, a leading telemedicine service provider, to avail easy access healthcare to our loyal subscribers.”

CEO at oDoc Heshan Fernando said: “At oDoc, we focus on providing everyone a means to prioritize their health. With over 300,000 oDoc users and 3500 app downloads per month, we are the pioneers in Sri Lanka’s telemedicine at present. The American Medical Association has confirmed that up to 75% of all physician visits can be handled via video calls, and we are pleased that we can leverage this latest trend. Over 450 doctors who specialize in 50 different areas have joined us in this groundbreaking cause. Having such a service at patients’ disposal frees them of their hassle of frequent hospital visits and bringing huge relief to them.”

Photo Caption: From left oDoc Head of New Business Development and Sales Nabeel Milhan, Co-Founder & CTO Keith De Alwis, Co-Founder & CEO Heshan Fernando and HUTCH General Manager Marketing Hamdhy Hassen, AGM Partnerships & Alliances Firaz Markar

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Bye bye, office space: The companies committing to WFH

Bye bye, office space: The companies committing to WFH

By Uwin Lugoda

During the last few months, the Covid-19 pandemic forced many Sri Lankan companies to adapt to the new norm of working from home (WFH). However, with the end of the curfew, many companies have moved or are moving back into their office spaces. Interestingly though, there are a few companies that adapted well to the sudden disruption and the enforced WFH experience; so much so that they have decided to give up their office spaces altogether, some temporarily and some even permanently.

Most of these companies have adopted different strategies to implement WFH and remote working policies, all of which eliminate the need for a permanent office space.

Goodbye office for good

oDoc, a local healthcare app that gives people access to doctors for video and audio consultations over the phone, is one company that has integrated their WFH policy permanently into their framework. The tech company has now decided to transition from full WFH to a 4:1 strategy, where they all only have to meet once a week.

“We decided to fully go with WFH as our team was happier and safer working from home, there was no loss in productivity, and there was a cost reduction,” said oDoc Chairman and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Heshan Fernando.

Speaking to The Sunday Morning Business, Fernando explained that they decided to move to a 4:1 strategy mainly due to the team missing the social aspect of coming into the office, and also to break the monotony of working from home. He also stated that when it comes to bringing in new team members, assimilating them to the company culture is done more efficiently in person, and some meetings too are better held face to face.

“As a small team, we have the luxury of being agile and plan on further experimenting to settle on what works best for us.”

The company first adopted a WFH strategy shortly after Covid-19 was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation (WHO), and will be transitioning to the 4:1 strategy from 1 July onwards.

Fernando stated that one of the biggest benefits of this WFH strategy is that it saves time, which is an important resource for the company, as a result of the lack of a commute. He explained that this freed up more time for the team and they were able to do remarkable things after freeing up an average of two extra hours per day. This has led to increased productivity and creativity and an overall sense of wellbeing.

He stated that apart from the employees, even the company as a whole benefits from this kind of strategy, due the monetary costs saved in terms of rent, electricity, internet, and transport.

Being a tech company, Fernando stated that it was easier to transition to this sort of strategy, as everyone on the team was already equipped with the necessary software and hardware and was used to WFH on the occasional evening/weekend. Furthermore, he stated that as a start-up, they were more predisposed to such a change.

He stated that the company has adopted a variety of software and apps to ensure that workflows are uninterrupted. These include WhatsApp and Slack for team communication, Notion for wikis, Zoom for meetings, JIRA for project management, BitBucket for code repository, Trello for individual task management, Metabase and Grafana for data visualisation, and finally Hubspot for sales and marketing.

He pointed out that the main challenge they faced when implementing the 4:1 strategy was with on-boarding new team members and helping existing members avoid the monotony of working from home as well as social isolation. However, he went on to state that no new policies or guidelines were needed for this transition, as they trust their employees to do the right thing and continue the workflow with no interruptions.

Furthermore, Fernando stated that so far, the team has been very open and has welcomed the change, and the company will continuously review progress until they get this strategy right.

Another company that has made the choice to leave a permanent office space behind is Kings Co., a creative agency based in Colombo, specialising in branding and advertising.

Kings Co. Co-founders Hash Bandara and Umanga Samarasinghe stated that they had been testing the WFH concept before the pandemic, but only fully embraced it once the pandemic hit.

“We currently have a team of five, and when we transitioned to WFH a month into the pandemic, we saw that our employees were more relaxed, so we realised that this would be the best way forward.”

They added that they also see several benefits to WFH; cost, time, and energy savings on commuting, being able to hire people from anywhere in the world, flexible work schedules, and reduced stress levels. They explained that they managed to adjust better than they expected, and are currently learning new methods of communication using technology.

In order to support their workflows, Bandara and Samarasinghe stated that they implemented several new policies and guidelines for their team to follow. These included installing the required software and equipment at home, monitoring the conditions of their place of work, ensuring each member maintains work-life balance, implementing security and privacy measures pertaining to using personal Wi-Fi connections, and other measures to promote productivity.

However, the duo stated that they also faced challenges adjusting to the new norm, as their team members had to learn to get used to the new working environment, which initially had an impact on their delivery time. They went on to point out other challenges, such as power failures, which affected workflow, and other distractions associated with WFH.

Bye for now office

Nehemiah Consultants, an independent public relations (PR) and content creation agency which has been in operation for over six years, has opted to move their company to a WFH/remote-working strategy temporarily.

“We did not set ourselves a time frame as such or a deadline to say when we would stop working from home. However, since it worked out well for us over the last few months, we have decided to go ahead with the way things are now,” said Public Relations Services Director Nishu Gunawardana.

Gunawardana explained that their strategy in working with their clients has been to introduce digital solutions like virtual meetings, online approval systems, file transfers, e-reporting, and even bank transfers for payments. She stated that most clients have been more than happy to transition and that they have garnered very positive feedback.

“We have implemented a lot of new digital solutions that makes life easier for everyone, and going paperless is also beneficial for the environment.”

She stated that their employees love working at their own pace and the company has only given them three simple guidelines to ensure workflow; this includes getting their work done on time, keeping the heads informed of any issues, and always answering their phones.

In terms of profitability, she stated that they have been able to reduce their overheads on account of not having to pay rent and for utilities, among other things, with only their data solution and mobile phone bills having increased. However, she went on to state that they had greatly reduced their travel cost because all their meetings with clients have been moved online.

“Apart from the obvious cost factor, we also found that our staff is more comfortable in their own work spaces. Contrary to popular belief that WFH makes people lazy, we have found that our guys are more motivated to get things done faster and spend more time at home doing other stuff as well.”

Gunawardana explained that for them, it was all about technology and introducing a new way of doing things, to their clients. She stated that while this transition to digital-based PR has been an interesting one for them and their clients, they are still learning every day.

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Ooredoo Maldives partners with Sri Lanka’s ‘oDoc’ telemedicine platform

Ooredoo Maldives partners with Sri Lanka's 'oDoc' telemedicine platform

oDocMaldives

Local telecom giant Ooredoo Maldives, on Sunday, announced its partnership with Sri Lanka’s leading telemedicine platform ‘oDoc’.

The platform connects patients with doctors for virtual consultations, with the aim of connecting people to “high quality health care that is universally accessible and affordable to all”, said Ooredoo Maldives’ Managing Director and CEO Najib Khan.

Customers can access the service and be billed directly by Ooredoo via its carrier billing service, eliminating the need for credit or debit cards, and is available to both its Postpaid and Prepaid users.

“Access to digital platforms such as oDoc has become necessary during these unprecedented times. Our customers can now reach out to their doctors in Sri Lanka for follow ups at their convenience, without having to travel and at an affordable price”, said Khan.

Users can utilize the oDoc virtual clinic to seek medical consultations from over 450 Sri Lankan doctors including general practitioners, pediatricians, psychiatrists, dermatologists, gynecologists and more, with a waiting time of less than three minutes.

Furthermore, Ooredoo revealed that Maldivian doctors will be added to the platform in the future.

All doctors on oDoc are fully qualified, registered and have at least five years of post-internship experience. They are also authorized to issue prescriptions to a patient’s phone after a thorough video consultation.

Research by the American Medical Association (AMA) found that nearly 75 percent of regular doctor visits can be handled through audio video consultations.

“With the advancements in technology, fast moving, digitally enabled and always connected lifestyle, Telemedicine has gained acceptance and popularity across the globe”, said Ooredoo, adding that over 200,000 Sri Lankans currently trust oDoc for their healthcare.

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How digital companies are reducing the strain on our health sector

How digital companies are reducing the strain on our health sector

As demand for medical professionals, hospitals, and other healthcare facilities keeps growing across Sri Lanka, there has never been a greater need to diversify the country’s healthcare sector and find a more efficient solution in order to reduce the overall strain on healthcare professionals.This has brought in a new appreciation towards local digital healthcare services such as telemedicine companies and e-pharmacies, and they have seen a significant growth in the usage of these services since the start of the Covid-19 outbreak.
In light of this, The Sunday Morning Business spoke to two of the most prominent players in this market segment to determine the response they have received during the prevailing virus outbreak in the country.

Speaking to The Sunday Morning Business, Dr. Janaka Wickramasinghe, the Co-founder and Chief Medical Officer (CMO) of oDoc, Sri Lanka’s largest telemedicine company, stated that the demand for oDoc has increased immensely over the past few months, especially with the Government endorsing telemedicine as a response to staying safe during Covid-19.

The oDoc app allows patients to consult doctors via video, audio, or text, thus enabling patients to do so in the safety and comfort of their own homes. It also allows patients to channel Sri Lanka Medical Council (SLMC)-registered doctors, obtain medical advice, receive prescriptions, and even get medicine delivered.

Currently, oDoc has over 200,000 Sri Lankan users and acts as a B2B (business-to-business) app for over 60 local corporates by helping the employers provide their employees with medical care. Recently, the home-grown service expanded their operations internationally to India and the Maldives. It also won the Commonwealth Digital Health Award in Telemedicine and the e-Swabhimani Digital Social Impact Award.
“In a pandemic like this, where even stepping out could increase the risk of us catching the virus or spreading it, telemedicine is the best way forward. You minimise the risk of contracting and spreading the virus. You can use oDoc to get your initial consultation done and get advice on what you need to do based on your symptoms,” said Dr. Wickramasinghe.

Telemedicine looks to address several issues of the local healthcare system in the current environment. These include the congestion of public healthcare facilities which leads to an increase in the transmission of the disease, access to healthcare, healthcare expenditure due to increased demand for tertiary healthcare, and the risk of exposing elderly patients to Covid-19.

According to Dr. Wickramasinghe, oDoc gives three solutions for the issues plaguing the current healthcare system: Giving initial medical advice, care for domestic isolated, and care for vulnerable groups.
Initial medical advice includes unwell individuals first doing online consultations without having to go to a hospital. After the consultation, they can be directed to a hospital for examination if needed. This is set to reduce congestion and the risk of infection from other patients.
As for the second use, individuals who have been quarantined can use the platform to obtain medical advice as their movement is restricted.
Finally, vulnerable groups such as the elderly with other underlying health conditions, who are doubly vulnerable to Covid-19 and have seen higher mortality rates the world over, can use the platform to avoid visiting crowded hospitals unless absolutely necessary. Prescription renewals could also be handled by the platform.

The platform also looks at improving the health of citizens by giving increased access to healthcare, reducing healthcare expenditure by reducing demand for tertiary healthcare, and increasing the productivity of citizens and associated economic benefits.

Dr. Wickramasinghe stated that since the start of the pandemic, the app has had over 25,000 downloads, with around 5,000 video consultations completed just last month. Accordingly, in order to deal with this sudden increase in consultation volumes, they have had to bring onboard over 150 additional doctors to the platform. This has increased the number of doctors on the app to over 600.

He stated that all these doctors have to follow the most up-to-date protocols published by the Ministry of Health and Indigenous Medical Services specifically when dealing with Covid-19. Furthermore, he said the platform has joined hands with government doctors to launch the Sri Lanka National Telemedicine Service on behalf of the Ministry of Health, with the support of the Information and Communication Technology Agency of Sri Lanka (ICTA).

“Through this CSR (corporate social responsibility) initiative, every Sri Lankan has the option to obtain a video consultation with a government doctor free of charge via oDoc from the comfort of their homes,” he explained.

This has increased daily consultations through the app by 10x and made oDoc the number one medical app on Google Play and Apple App Store for Sri Lanka, even above other e-channelling apps.
“Many users are downloading oDoc to use our advanced Covid Self-Assessment Tool, which is based on WHO (World Health Organisation) and CDC (Centres for Disease Control and Prevention) guidelines that are continuously updated. It is available in Sinhala, Tamil, and English,” he noted.

Dr. Wickramasinghe further stated that from their B2B side, the platform has signed over 20 companies to their corporate subscription programme since the beginning of Covid-19, which increased their total number of corporate partners to over 60.

He explained that the biggest challenge they faced before the outbreak was convincing the user to do the first consultation on oDoc. However, with the Covid-19 outbreak and telemedicine being the first response to it, a lot more people have used it and felt how convenient and effective it is. Due to this, even post-Covid it will be the new norm, he said.
Pharmacy online

Healthnet is Sri Lanka’s first full service e-pharmacy. According to its CEO/Director Deeshana Basnayake and COO/Director Rangika Wijesinghe, their orders and deliveries went up a few fold compared to their usual traffic during the few months prior to the outbreak. They stated that while it is hard to provide an exact number, the number of deliveries has increased by a few thousand.

First introduced in 2016, Healthnet delivers pharmaceuticals to the consumer’s doorstep for the existing retail market prices without any extra charge. Consumers can place their order by sending their prescriptions and required personal details via the Healthnet website, mobile app, email, Viber, WhatsApp, or general line. The platform provides high service quality due to the end-to-end services provided in-house.

Healthnet sources all medications directly from licensed importers and authorised agents. Prescriptions are prepared by Sri Lanka Medical Council (SLMC)-certified pharmacists and delivered using temperature-controlled transport units. The platform adheres to the regulations and guidelines set forth by the National Medicines Regulatory Authority (NMRA) functioning under the purview of the Ministry of Health.
“Consumers who are essentially patients need to have uninterrupted access to health services, despite any prevailing situation,” said Basnayake and Wijesinghe.

They explained that since the outbreak, consumers have had no physical access to a pharmacy, which has made it mandatory for them to reach out to online pharmacy services, similar to the way they have for other essential goods such as food. Due to this, the platform has experienced a significant shift in consumer behaviour towards online pharmacies.

Basnayake and Wijesinghe stated that since the outbreak, Healthnet has been seeing an increase in daily traffic to their website, amounting between 30,000 and 40,000 visits per day. Furthermore, despite this increase in operational demand, they have faced challenges of having to work with minimum resources due to the lockdown and being only able to mobilise a section of their staff.

In order to handle this increase in demand, they stated that they have activated remote working and working-from-home procedures for some staff, changed some of their processes that were identified as bottlenecks, optimised available resources, and stretched the working hours while introducing two shifts for operations.

Speaking on the training procedure of their delivery partners during the current environment, the two stated that their deliveries are anyway done in compliance to the guidelines stipulated by the NMRA through their own staff. However, during the Covid-19 pandemic, they have further enhanced this by following WHO standards wen it comes to social distancing, such as conducting deliveries while wearing personal protective equipment (PPEs) and cashless transactions.

Basnayake and Wijesinghe stated that while there could be a certain percentage of consumers who may go back to the conventional methods post Covid, those who believe in social distancing and have experienced the benefits of online services will continue to patronise digital services. Healthnet currently delivers within the Colombo District and intends to expand to other regions of the country.

The greatest advantage of digital healthcare services such as telemedicine and e-pharmacies is that they promote accessibility in medical care, which is currently a hurdle faced internationally as well as locally. Therefore, the increasing popularity of them in Sri Lanka is something that should provide comfort to us all.

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Union Assurance partners oDoc to ensure protection of policyholders

Union Assurance partners oDoc to ensure protection of policyholders

With the spread of COVID-19 continuing to create unprecedented challenges to communities, Union Assurance PLC (UA) as an organization deeply committed to protect the well-being of its stakeholders, has been carrying out various programs to respond to this global health, economic and social emergency. As part of this commitment, UA was one of the first Life Insurance companies to cover COVID-19 through its health covers to protect and support the health and well-being of its customers.

UA has taken a step further to reach out to its policyholders by partnering with oDoc, a leading telemedicine solutions provider to offer convenient access to medical consultancy services and pharmaceutical deliveries. Customers that face various health conditions can now obtain the following services via oDoc: Free unlimited audio and video consultations with SLMC registered doctors not just for the policyholder, but up to 3 additional family members, digital prescription issuances along with discounted pharmacy deliveries and discounted mobile lab services to selected locations are offered for UA customers. This special service offering is valid from May 4, 2020 for a period of 3 months.

Commenting on this new initiative, Rumesh Modarage, Assistant General Manager – Life, of Union Assurance said, “We are pleased to partner with oDoc to offer our customers professional telemedicine services especially during these challenging times. Through oDoc our policyholders can avail themselves of services right from their living rooms instead of waiting rooms, ensuring round-the-clock access to medical care. All UA customers are invited to sign-up for oDoc services through http://portal.unionassurance.com or via their mobile phones.

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