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At Large

A safety net for health

Jerome Uy, CEO of MedGrocer, a company that’s part of AC Health, the health arm of Ayala Corp., dates his interest in the health and medicine fields to his childhood.

An older brother of his had a bad case of asthma, and when he had an attack in the middle of the night, their parents would have to drive to the nearest drugstore to buy his inhaler. Meanwhile, Jerome would sit with his brother and try to comfort him. Sometimes, he would kid his brother and ask if he wanted a pizza, because “if I call now for delivery, the pizza will surely arrive before the inhaler does.”

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This is how, Uy said at this week’s Bulong Pulungan sa Sofitel, his interest in health services was piqued. “I saw the need to improve the service levels of drugstores,” he said. MedGrocer, for instance, makes it possible for customers to order medicines online for delivery the next day to the customers’ homes. This setup, said Uy, is ideal for patients who take maintenance medicines but don’t have the time or ability to make frequent visits to drug stores.

MedGrocer also seeks tie-ups with corporate clients, providing easily-accessible digital records of employees’ health needs, including records of vaccinations and other procedures.

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Investing in health technology solutions is made possible for AC Health through Vigos, its digital arm that “develops and invests in new innovative technology.” Through FamilyDoc, its network of basic care clinics, for example, medical personnel could track disease trends in their area, enabling them “to develop patient-specific products and services” and perhaps work with local officials in formulating responses to the wider population. In the corporate setting, MedGrocer, using Vigos, could also be used to monitor employees’ medical records, order medicines online or book an appointment with a doctor, among others.

Government health services—from the most basic health centers to huge state-run hospitals—often get a bad rap because sheer congestion and low health budgets mean patients must wait for long periods before being attended to, receive perfunctory if not inadequate diagnosis, and suffer through the lack of diagnostic tools, lab work and even procedures.

One other reason is that even patients who could afford to pay for basic consultations or treatment are often forced to visit emergency rooms of government and even private hospitals for simple complaints, because they don’t have access to alternative sources of care.

This is where smaller basic health facilities, such as FamilyDoc, could bridge the health service gap between government health centers and tertiary-level hospitals. The clinics could also provide an alternative for medical professionals who are seeking more intimate, personal contact with patients, without going through the wringer of impersonal, demanding health delivery as demanded by huge hospitals.

Dr. Mike Santos, medical director of AC Health, said FamilyDoc provides a tantalizing career opportunity for doctors interested in family health. “It promises a better quality of life for them,” he said. Patients, meanwhile, can be assured of quality care at a reasonable cost.

A patient visiting for an initial consultation, said Santos, is charged a P350 consultation fee, but a subsequent follow-up consultation is free. Unfortunately, as noted by AC Health CEO Paolo Borromeo, PhilHealth does not cover primary care costs.

To suggestions that a network of clinics like FamilyDoc includes mental health in its menu of services, especially with the passage of the Mental Health Law, Santos agreed and said that, in fact, “mental health is part of the course on family medicine.” FamilyDoc, he added, could provide the important initial step of screening.

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Gone are the days when family doctors could be counted upon to pay home visits and get to know their patients personally. But AC Health, with a network of clinics, drug stores and innovative health delivery systems, could very well serve as a safety net for ordinary householders and communities by looking after people’s health needs and providing peace of mind.

rdavid@inquirer.com.ph

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