Virtual care to increase military medical centre capacity in the primary health care setting: A prospective self-controlled pilot study of symptoms collection and telemedicine

J Telemed Telecare. 2020 Oct 4;1357633X20959579. doi: 10.1177/1357633X20959579. Online ahead of print.


Introduction: The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) recognises the potential benefits and looks to harnessing telemedicine for primary health care services. In this prospective self-controlled pilot study, we aimed to evaluate the safety, efficiency and user satisfaction outcomes of virtual care (VC) at a military medical centre.

Methods: Out of 320 patients seen during the study period, 28 were enrolled in this study and underwent on-premises VC, comprising digital symptoms collection and telemedicine in addition to the usual in-person physician consultation. Safety outcomes were measured based on the diagnostic concordance between physicians. Efficiency was measured based on consultation times, and user satisfaction was evaluated using a standard questionnaire.

Results: There was a higher caseload of both upper respiratory infections and dermatological conditions in our population, in which telemedicine performed well. In terms of safety, telemedicine achieved a mean diagnostic concordance of 92.8% compared to in-person consultations. In terms of efficiency, consultation times were 26.2% - or 2 minutes and 15 seconds - shorter on average with telemedicine (p = 0.0488). User satisfaction was favourable, with 85.5% of patients satisfied with the VC experience.

Discussion: This study has been invaluable in showing that on-premises telemedicine is a safe, efficient and effective means to extend and increase our surge capacity for primary health care. Our results have given us reasonable confidence to explore a larger-scale implementation in our network of military medical centres in the future.

Keywords: COVID-19; Telemedicine; general practice; military medicine; on-premises telemedicine; symptoms collection; telehealth; virtual care.