Wednesday 8 July, 2020

MDLink brings telemedicine to the Caribbean

Dr Che Bowen has been ahead of his time.

In 2018, the Trinidadian doctor created a telemedicine platform that connected doctors with people who didn’t want to or could not leave home for medical services.

Today, with the COVID-19 pandemic fast-tracking the development of digital solutions in the Caribbean, Dr Bowen’s platform, MDLink, is in demand.

“When coronavirus came around we saw a need for it and we began expanding all over the region. We are now in The Bahamas, St Lucia, the Cayman Islands, Trinidad and Tobago, the British Virgin Islands, Antigua and Barbados,” he told Loop.

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MDLink was initially launched in Jamaica where Dr Bowen studied medicine and now works.

“What made me think about this concept was working at the Kingston Public Hospital at one of the busy clinics and there was a patient named George who would come to the clinic for his high blood pressure medication. One day George was frustrated and said why do I have to come here every other month, my blood pressure is fine, I check it at home with my machine, I am feeling fine and every time I come here you have been writing the same prescription for me, do you have a better solution?

“I thought to myself there must be a better solution. I realised telemedicine was being done in abroad and that gave me further reassurance that it is a concept that could work,” he said. 

Dr Che Bowen, CEO and founder of MDLink

MDLink is a platform that allows users to book an appointment with a doctor, get diagnosed and treated via video, audio or text message.

“After you see the doctor you will be able to, based on conditions, fill out prescriptions electronically and do a lab or radiology requests. We do sick notes as well,” he explained.

People with emergencies such as chest pains, head trauma,broken bones, brain injuries, lacerations, vomiting of blood and paediatric ear conditions are advised to go to a hospital. The platform also does not provide prescriptions for controlled substances.

“We strive to make healthcare more accessible and affordable to everyone,” said Dr Bowen, noting that there is a fee to see a doctor which is lower than an in-office charge.

MDLink’s General Manager Tori Haber walked us through the platform.

“In terms of booking with a doctor you can select a date and preferred time and you are prompted to select a doctor with your preferred specialty. You will see a list of available doctors and you can select the one you want. You can also select your preferred pharmacy. Everything is also segmented by country and you are prompted to select the location you are currently in,” she explained.

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Haber said once a doctor is selected you are prompted to pay via debit, credit and pay pal. She said in some cases, patients provide their banking information and do a direct deposit.

On the doctor’s end, Haber said registration is free, and their credentials are checked and verified to ensure they are legitimate.

 “We require malpractice insurance, Government ID, medical degrees…we fact check everything. Once they are approved, we run through a demo process to see how tech-savvy they are. Each doctor is carried through a small training process, nothing difficult. The platform is very simple to use.”

Tori Haber, General Manager, MDLink

Prior to the onslaught of the COVID-19 virus, MDLink had around 40 registered doctors. That changed when the virus took root in the region.

“Corona came and they realised it was necessary so we had a large influx of doctors calling Tori every five minutes. In one day I was seeing about 20 doctors registering. Across the Caribbean we have 200 doctors registering and we are in the process of registering more,” said Dr Bowen, who noted that the platform helped to flatten the curve as patients did not have to leave home to see a doctor.

The platform also has benefits for the region in natural disasters such as hurricanes, the team pointed out.

As the first of its kind in the region, MDLink does not have the benefit of Caribbean regulations to support telemedicine, which Dr Bowen hopes will be rectified in the near future along with upgraded pharmacy regulations. MDLink currently follows international standards.

Haber said they have been encouraging various pharmacy councils to recognise telemedicine as a broader, more legitimate area where they can accept e-subscriptions of doctor’s letters as many still require physical copies.

Health insurance remains another challenge. Haber said they do not currently accept health insurance forms but that may change as some insurance companies have begun to recognise telemedicine services.

Excited by the opportunities to be explored in the digital space, Dr Bowen said there are many digital health solutions that he plans to implement over the next few years.

“I became saturated and obsessed with it and the more I read I am like wow, why isn’t this in the Caribbean. Our next big step is remote patient monitoring for those concerned about how we check chest, heart, vitals...that will seal the entire patient experience, it is where the world is heading.”

MDLink is available via desktop and app. 

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