COVID-19 accelerates teleconsultation adoption in Indonesia

For Caroline Riady, Chief Executive Officer of Siloam Hospitals Group, COVID-19 is like the wind that accelerated the realisation of a digital revolution in healthcare.

Digital transformation for Siloam started three years ago. This included multiple customer channels such as the MySiloam mobile app, a chatbot on their website, and a national call centre which can be called from anywhere in the country.

Then COVID-19 happened, and movement restrictions in Indonesia followed. 

Siloam Hospitals’ CIO, Ryanto Marino Tedjomulja

Siloam Hospital Group’s Chief Information Officer Ryanto Marino Tedjomulja acknowledges that the pandemic opened up an opportunity for the hospital group to be creative. “Our goal is continuity of services and treatment”, Tedjomulja remarks, which is why they looked for ways to help doctors return to practice and patients to receive care.

Siloam introduced teleconsultation services on 13 April knowing that patients, especially immunocompromised ones, can suffer serious outcomes when unable to keep up with their treatment plan. People were scared of going to hospitals because of the stigma surrounding the infection, according to Caroline Riady, CEO of Siloam.

With more than 500 specialists doing teleconsultation services, Siloam is able to protect both patients and doctors. Its digital channels provide information about hospital safety, COVID-19 and its symptoms, hospital access, online doctor appointments, and testing facilities. They also have a live chat operated by agents properly equipped with information on the disease, the process of diagnosis and treatment, protocols, as well as a symptoms checker that is able to do the initial screening for patients. 

Currently, however, telemedicine poses a number of challenges, including technological knowledge, government regulations, infrastructure, and cybersecurity.

Because not everyone has the same understanding of how teleconsultation works, some find this new platform difficult to use. Siloam addresses this through change management. They prepare doctors, nurses, and staff to use this new system. They even have people who guide doctors step by step while the latter try and get comfortable with the technology. Likewise, Riady mentions that their doctors do teleconsultation from the hospital so that they are still “under [the] clinical governance umbrella” to better assure patients. Siloam also uses various platforms to “get the right message or information to the right people”. According to Tedjomulja, they maximise the use of their digital channels, their strategic partners like insurance companies and corporate clients, and word of mouth marketing to reach as many patients as possible.

In addition, doctors are not allowed to give a diagnosis to patients through online consultation. This is a policy in Indonesia, but some regulations have eased during the pandemic and so doctors are already allowed to write a prescription online. Riady is confident that guidelines will be reviewed to incorporate the digital footprint set out by the current health crisis.

Another challenge is building a strong foundation for digital transformation, meaning the infrastructure and the team. Since it has been in the pipelines for Siloam Hospitals since last year, the implementation has become easier for the hospital group. In fact, it was able to set up teleconsultation services in two weeks. “If we didn’t start this digital journey a year ago, we wouldn’t know where to start,” Tedjomulja believes.

The threat to data security holds up telemedicine as well. The healthcare industry is still behind when it comes to information security. For Tedjomulja, “there are a lot of things to learn from other industries on how [the healthcare industry] can improve security governance [as well as] how to improve people’s awareness”. Nonetheless, Siloam works to advance encryption procedures and protocols for other parties that access their network. Riady also finds that behaviour change is crucial in reducing cybersecurity risks. With this, Siloam Hospitals implemented steps, such as putting up posters, creating online courses, and even making a trial run on their staff, to spread awareness of the threats that come with digital transformation. “It’s a learning process for the organisation and that is something you can’t do overnight or install within a month or roll out quickly”, says Riady.

Nonetheless, teleconsultation is not the end of Siloam’s digital pathway. Looking ahead, the hospital is open to exploring new technologies that allow for monitoring of patient’s conditions even after hospital treatment. Tedjomulja is confident about a more intensive digital revolution for healthcare with the rise of cloud technology, the Internet of Things (IoT), and Artificial Intelligence (AI).

Telehealth may be running on trial this time, but the confidence on it becoming the next big thing for healthcare continues to grow.