Falling sick is an inconvenient, yet unavoidable part of life, and a big part of that inconvenience can be attributed to having to visit the doctor.
Whether it’s for some much-needed meds or getting an MC for work/school, no one likes getting out of bed, dragging themselves to the nearest clinic and queuing up with other sick people for (at least) an hour.
Emerging telehealth services like WhiteCoat, however, are looking to change that. Using the power of video conferencing, apps like these want to take the clinic experience online, making physically visiting doctors a thing of the past.
But with telehealth still in its infant stages, is it currently a viable alternative to — for a lack of a better term — the real thing? Well, it just so happens that one our colleagues came down with a fever (yay…?), so we tried using the app to see for ourselves.
The Doctor Will See You Now
Getting started with WhiteCoat is a straightforward affair — after signing up for an account, the home page takes you through a short questionnaire that’ll give the doctor some basic info before the actual consultation starts (symptoms, allergies, etc). It’s also at this point where you can request for some of the app’s more specialised services, such as travel medication and sexual health advice.
From there you can request for a specific doctor, or simply let the app choose one for you. Because this was our first time we chose the latter option, and after a brief wait we found ourselves in a video call with Dr Tan Ming Wei.
Apart from the whole “talking through screens” thing, the call pretty much felt like a regular face-to-face checkup. The usual questions were asked, and the doctor can even examine your symptoms by bringing the phone closer.
There are some limitations to an online consultation, though. Anyone who’s been to a doctor (i.e everyone) will know that they perform physical checks for things like temperature and blood pressure, and that obviously can’t be done through a screen.
This is where some cooperation is required — while you’re not expected to have a stethoscope lying around the house, you should at the very least have a thermometer on hand. In the event that you don’t have one (we didn’t), the doctor should still be able to connect the dots and diagnose more common illnesses.
Towards the end of the consultation Dr Tan informed us of the medication he would be prescribing, and discussed the terms of the MC as well. All in all the consultation took about ten minutes, and considering that we didn’t have to get out of our seats it definitely wins in terms of convenience.
While the consultation itself is more or less par for course from a regular checkup, the next few steps are where things start to get a little more interesting.
After the video call ends you’ll be taken to a summary of the prescribed medication, and you can actually choose which ones you want. Got prescribed Paracetamol but already got some Panadol at home? Just deselect it from the list and you’ll save both money and space in your medicine cabinet.
After payment (which we’ll get more into later), you choose a delivery time from the available slots, and the medication will be delivered right to your doorstep (you’ll have to verify your identity with your IC, so don’t worry about becoming an accidental drug runner). You’ll also get a notification of when your driver’s on the way, and based on our experience it arrived punctually at the stipulated time.
It should be noted, however, that you’re going to have to wait at least a few hours before your meds arrive. We ended our consultation at 12pm and picked the earliest delivery slot (3pm-5pm), and received our care package at 3:30pm. Relatively fast, but not ideal if you’re in urgent need of medication.
As for the MC, a digital copy is immediately available in the summary on the next page, which includes your diagnosis and what you should do to mitigate the illness. Our bosses had no problem with this relatively new format, but your mileage may vary depending on how much of a stickler your company/school is.
Welcome To The Future
Tech innovations are sometimes guilty of making bold claims and not delivering, but WhiteCoat doesn’t fall into this category. The app actually feels like a tangible life upgrade, and is an optimistic example of what healthcare could look like in the future.
On top of that, the future isn’t looking too expensive either. Office hour consultations (8am-10pm on Mondays to Fridays) cost a flat fee of $25, and according to Dr Tan medication is “priced competitively” as well. Our final bill came up to $41.73, and considering that visiting a private clinic can cost upwards of $50, we’re going to chalk this up as a win.
Side note: The Community Health Assist Scheme (CHAS) currently doesn’t apply to telehealth services, but subsidies are still available if you go for a checkup at WhiteCoat’s physical clinic at Henderson Road. Doctors also have the discretion to waive off consultation fees, so you won’t get charged if all you end up getting is a referral.
The process might be smooth for now, but as telehealth apps become more ubiquitous we can’t help but wonder if waiting times will increase (Dr Tan tells us that their team sees an average of 20 patients a day).
When we raised this potential issue to WhiteCoat CEO Bryan Koh, he assured us that they’re already anticipating the increased demand and taking pre-emptive measures such as proactive hiring to expand their medical team.
Telehealth apps will never fully replace physical visits to the doctor (things like food poisoning and broken bones are best treated in person), but for less serious illnesses like fevers and flu, this is a game-changer.
Disclaimer: This review was conducted as a trial under WhiteCoat’s corporate engagement programme, and does not involve any promotion or offer. You should only use this app when you are legitimately sick.
VP Verdict is a series where we personally try and test out products, services, fads, and apps. Want to suggest something else for us to try? Leave a comment here or send the suggestion into our Facebook page.