• Shaun Bateman

A new platform for virtual doctor consultations offers patients greater choice and easier access

Digitally-enabled healthcare (‘Telehealth’) a growing trend internationally and in South Africa


Convenient, technology-powered options for accessing healthcare became more relevant than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic. A doctor appointment no longer necessarily means having to travel to a consulting room or a hospital in order to consult with a doctor in person, thanks to Netcare VirtualCare, an innovative and secure platform for virtual doctor consultations, or ‘telehealth’ consultations as it is also commonly known.

“Technology is increasingly driving innovations in healthcare. There has been a global trend towards virtual interactions as we adjusted our behaviour to minimise the potential for transmission of the virus,” says Dr. Richard Friedland, chief executive officer of the Netcare Group.

“We are pleased to be part of that trend in implementing a bespoke platform for virtual consultations as part of our strategic aim of ‘providing you with the best and safest health and care, digitally-enabled and data-driven’.

“Netcare VirtualCare is enabling patients and doctors to maintain contact without physical interaction. Virtual doctor consultations can take the form of either video consultations via mobile devices or computers, or telephone consultations via a mobile phone or landline, both from the comfort and convenience of the patient’s home.”

Netcare VirtualCare platform available for GP consultations

Medicross spearheaded the piloting and successful implementation of the virtual consultations within the Netcare Group, offering patients and doctors across 50 Medicross centres more flexibility and choice for interacting.

Managing director of Netcare’s primary care division, Dr. Billyy van der Merwe, adds that patients of all ages have responded enthusiastically to the service.

“We are pleased that the virtual general practitioner consultations are fulfilling a need in our communities and that many persons have indicated that they find this service very convenient. There are many instances where physical in-person medical consultations may not be necessary, for example, to obtain a repeat prescription, and this offers a new direction for connecting the communities we serve with primary healthcare practitioners,” Dr. Van der Merwe explains.

Security and confidentiality

Travis Dewing, chief information officer of Netcare, explains that virtual doctor consultations are provided through the secure Netcare VirtualCare platform, with all data encrypted to protect the patient’s privacy and confidential information.

Using the platform does not require an App to be downloaded and it also provides a dial-in function for individuals who do not have internet connectivity. “The platform we use to connect patients and doctors in a private virtual consultation ‘room’ can be easily accessed and is very user friendly, yet very secure,” he says.

“Most younger people use digital and smartphone technology extensively in everyday life for its time saving and convenience value. Increasingly, older people are embracing technology, from using WhatsApp, Skype, and Zoom for connecting with family and friends, to making use of online shopping, and now for accessing healthcare. This trend has been accelerated worldwide with the prevailing advice to limit interpersonal contact as a precaution against contracting COVID-19.”

How it works

“Appointments for virtual consultations with Medicross doctors can be made in the same way as traditional appointments, either through the online booking system available on the Medicross website, or by phoning the medical practice, or through Netcare Appointmed, which is the Netcare Group’s medical appointment service.

Patients receive confirmation of their appointment via email and SMS, as well as a reminder 15 minutes before the appointment. They are then provided with a link to access their virtual consultation. The appointment and link are similarly confirmed in the doctor’s calendar.

“When the Netcare VirtualCare platform is accessed through modern web browsers such as Google Chrome for Android, Windows and MacOS devices, or Apple Safari for iOS on a computer or mobile device, the link connects the patient and the doctor in a private and secure online consultation ‘room’, allowing them to see and hear one another as if they were sitting on opposite sides of the doctor’s desk as usual,” Dewing concludes.

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