WITH the Philippines needing almost one million new doctors, a law providing for medical school scholarships and telemedicine services are being touted as measures that can be adopted to ensure that every Filipino has access to immediate medical care.
Health Secretary Dr. Paulyn Jean B. Rosell-Ubial, who was directed by President Rodrigo R. Duterte to travel to Cuba in August this year to study the country’s health care system, pointed out that Cuba has a ratio of one doctor for every 1,075 patients––a far cry from the Philippines, which has a ratio of one doctor for every 33,000 persons.
According to Ubial, the prohibitive costs of medical school and length of study required discourages many Filipinos from becoming doctors.
“We’re producing only 2,600 a year. Right now, it’s very difficult to go into medicine,” Ubial said.
There is a bill in the Senate that seeks to establish medical scholarship programs to increase the number of doctors in the country. Senate Bill 2717, authored by Senator Sonny Angara, would provide scholarships for deserving students in the University of the Philippines College of Medicine from every province of the country.
“According to data from the UPCM, about 80 percemt of its graduates leave the country to practice medicine abroad. Unfortunately, this trend has been increasing for the past 10 years. The effect is evident in the lack of medical doctors to serve our underprivileged countrymen,” said Angara.
If passed into law, the measure would require graduates of the program to work in provincial hospitals for five years.
Medgate Philippines Chief Executive Officer Robert Parker says that these programs “are a good long-term solution to the dearth of doctors in the Philippines.”
“However, the thousands of doctors needed won’t be produced overnight. Given the urgency of the problem, we have to look at viable, immediate alternatives to mitigate the impact of doctor shortages, especially in rural areas where doctors are scarce,” Parker stressed.
One option, according to Parker, is telemedicine––the use of electronic communications to transmit and exchange medical information and data to treat patients. Parker’s company, Medgate Philippines, is the leading international provider of telemedicine, with operations in Switzerland, the Middle East, Australia, and the Philippines.
“In some areas in the Philippines, you have doctors servicing over 20,000 people. This means long waiting times just to consult a doctor,” explained Medgate Philippines Medical Director Dr. Arlene Claudio.
“What telemedicine does is give every one who has a cellular phone access to a doctor 24 hours a day, seven days a week. So when you’re sick, you can consult a doctor anytime, anywhere.”