Shafiqur Rahman of Hamzarbagh in Chattogram city has long been suffering from heart diseases and regularly sees Dr Rizwan Rehan, assistant professor of the Department of Cardiology of Chattogram Medical College and Hospital.
"Feeling chest pain, I went to the doctor's. But when I reached there, I found it closed. So I phone him and he talked to me for around 15 minutes. He asked me to spray nidocard on my chest and prescribed me new medicines. He also advised admission in a hospital in case the pain persisted," said Shafiqur Rahman.
Many patients around the country have been facing the same hazards like Shafiqur as many doctors have shut their chambers in fear of contracting coronavirus. Moreover, no hospitals are admitting patients suffering from cold, cough or fever on the same ground.
In this moment of a national health crisis, telemedicine comes in handy for many patients, with doctors advising them via telephone or video calls and charging no fees.
Medical colleges and district-upazila level hospitals have already started telemedicine services.
In Chattogram, telemedicine services have been started in many health centres including Bangladesh Medical Association (BMA), Shadhinota Doctor's Association, Doctors Association of Bangladesh (DAB), and Chattogram Medical College.
According to the Bangladesh Medical Association (BMA), there are around eight thousand doctors in Chattogram. Of them, five thousand are BMA members.
Dr Rizwan Rehan has been providing telemedicine service for the last one week. On average, 10 to 15 patients call him every day. He is advising many patients through video call too.
"I have closed my chamber over safety concern. I am attending my patients over phone. The services are the same as the ones that I provide at my chamber," said Dr Rizwan.
"After a long discussion, I prescribe them medicine. I am not taking any fees for this," he added.
Every day, around 2,500 patients take services from the outdoor of Chattogram Medical College. But nowadays the number has come down to around 2,000 due to coronavirus outbreak. The doctors at the hospital are also reluctant to attend patients. As a result, the hospital has introduced two hotline numbers for telemedicine services.
Dr Aftabul Islam, deputy director of Chattogram Medical College Hospital, said, "We have 300 doctors. Besides, there are 300 more doctors at the college. but the doctors are not willing to attend the patients directly over safety concern. As a result, we started the hotline last Sunday. We are providing services 24 hours services via this hotline."
"There are operators for this hotline. They receive calls from patients and forward them to the doctors according to the patients'symptoms," he added.
The hotline has been introduced at the upazila health complexes too.
Dr Sheikh Fazle Rabbi, district civil surgeon of Chattogram, said the outdoor patients are taking healthcare services via hotline.
"So far, 14 upazila health complexes have started telemedicine services. Every day, an average of 100 to 200 patients are calling using the hotline," said Dr Rabbi.
Meanwhile, the Chattogram branch of Bangladesh Medical Association (BMA) has started telemedicine services with 65 specialised doctors. These doctors are attending patients from 5 pm to 7 pm.
Dr Rafiqul Mawla, head of the Department of Skin and Venereal Diseases of Chattogram Medical College and Hospital, is providing telemedicine services arranged by the BMA.
He said, "Every day I am giving treatment to patients via telemedicine for two hours. Most of my patients are suffering from skin diseases. I am prescribing them medicine and advising them to stay at home."
Dr Mujibul Haque Khan, president of Chattogram BMA, said, "Any doctor can treat general diseases. But for complex diseases, we need specialised doctors. In this regard, we have started telemedicine services with 65 specialised doctors. We are supervising the whole process."