Flu and Covid-19 overwhelm telemedicine, and patients wait up to 24 hours for emergency consultations

According to the association that represents the sector, the number of remote consultations doubles every 36 hours in Brazil; users report queues of more than 5 thousand people and problems with scheduling

DCStudio – br.freepik.comTelemedicine services register a significant increase in demand for consultations after new outbreaks and flu and Covid-19

In recent weeks, several Brazilian states and cities have experienced an explosion of cases of gripe and of Covid-19. The advances of the H3N2 strain of influenza and Ômicron variant of the coronavirus, as well as the agglomerations of the holidays, now reflect in long waiting lines in hospitals, especially in emergency rooms. In the capital of São Paulo, for example, the Basic Health Units have already registered more than 189 thousand visits from people with respiratory symptoms this month. This growth, however, is not limited to face-to-face health systems. Services of health operators that offer consultations via telemedicine also register a significant increase in the search for consultations. According to the Brazilian Association of Telemedicine and Digital Health Companies, which represents the sector, from New Year’s Eve until early January there were 50,000 remote consultations. It’s the number of remote consultations doubles every 36 hours in Brazil. With this scenario, the situation borders on chaos. Patients report overload in the systems, with queues of six, ten and even 18 hours, a situation that displeases – and frustrates – users.

A resident of Contagem, in Minas Gerais, the administrator Rodrigo Silva sought to schedule an online consultation through the Bradesco Saúde after experiencing the first respiratory symptoms. When accessing the insurance company’s application, he had his first surprise: there were only vacancies for four days later. With that, Rodrigo decided to face the online queue, with 807 people in front of him. “That was about 6 pm on a Wednesday. I managed to be seen at 12 noon the next day. I thought it would be faster, given the huge queues for face-to-face attendance. I chose [a telemedicina] for the convenience of not having to leave the house, avoiding contact with other people”, says the administrator, who tested positive for Covid-19. The situation is no exception. In São Paulo, Anny Oliveira, also a Bradesco member, reports difficulties in getting service. After waiting six hours for an in-person consultation and being dissatisfied, she decided to join the telemedicine queue on the Saúde Digital app, where she waited for more than five hours, but had the consultation interrupted. “I was waiting and at the time of my appointment, around three in the morning, the doctor’s connection dropped, I waited more than 20 minutes for him to come back, but he didn’t.”

The delay for online consultations is also a complaint from users of other health plans. In Belo Horizonte, marketing analyst Rafael Orsini attempted an emergency consultation via telemedicine from the Amil, but the queue has become discouraged. According to him, 5,700 people were waiting for assistance, with a forecast of more than 10 hours of waiting. With the delay, he chose to make an appointment with a general practitioner, but the appointment did not take place. “I got it for the same day at 6 pm. 10 minutes, 20 minutes, 40 minutes went by and I was not answered. Even with an appointment I couldn’t get the service, I don’t know what happened. After that waiting time, Amil disconnected the application from me”, says the analyst, who says he is frustrated. “If I have a problem with respiratory syndromes, I will probably still try telemedicine to reduce exposure, but unfortunately it will only be as a last resort”, he adds. In Governador Valadares, the delay is also repeated. Historian Beatriz Miranda says that she had to wait almost nine hours to get a teleconsultation through the Unimed. “I chose telemedicine for the convenience of not having to go to the hospital and because I think it’s safer, I didn’t know what I had. In the end, it would have been easier for me to have gone to a health center and tried through the SUS, it would have been much faster”, said the young woman, who tested positive for Covid-19.

Complaints about the delay and even the inability to schedule an appointment via telemedicine are not limited to these patients. On social media, hundreds of users also report similar experiences. At the Twitter, an Amil member exposed the long queue for service on Thursday, the 13th. “Your position in the queue is 3943”, he wrote, completing the message the next day. “13 hours later, I am at position 794. Amil’s telemedicine is almost one line from the SUS”, he added. Another internet user reported problems with SulAmérica. “This agreement is a joke. It’s 24 hours waiting for a mere query and replying to everyone the same cold and automatic message. You have no respect for your customers. Stop saying they offer telemedicine, the service doesn’t work,” he wrote. The report had access to the SulAmérica application. When trying to request a service, the platform reported that due to high demand, the waiting time for services was “longer than usual”. The health operator also recommended in messages that patients with shortness of breath and extreme fatigue, as well as those belonging to risk groups, seek a hospital immediately.

Overload of professionals

In addition to the increase in cases of Covid-19 and the flu and, consequently, the greater demand for medical care, another reason that leads to long waiting lines is the removal of professionals due to infections. In the state of São Paulo alone, for example, it is estimated that almost two thousand health workers are out of their jobs due to respiratory syndromes. This situation extends to telemedicine and also affects the workforce, explains Lorena de Castro Diniz, coordinator of the Scientific Department of Immunization at ASBAI, the Brazilian Association of Allergy and Immunology. “Most of the colleagues who work in telemedicine also work in person and our colleagues are sick. In telemedicine, some who are asymptomatic continue to act, which still helps”, points out the doctor, who indicates the demand for face-to-face care only in serious cases. “We are seeing the overflow of people seeking care. Telemedicine brings convenience of not going to the emergency room. Waiting for two, three or four hours is really bad. Sometimes he will wait that long, but at least he waits in the comfort of his own home.”

In a reply sent to Young pan, the National Federation of Supplementary Health (FenaSaúde) clarified that the increase in waiting is “the result of the explosion of cases of Covid-19 in recent weeks, with a high rate of transmissibility characteristic of the new variants”. The note informs that the health plans have adopted improvements in the platforms and reinforcements in the teams. “Pandemic scenarios naturally present new aspects at all times, demanding adaptation in record time to unforeseen events. Yet the supplementary health system has consistently and continuously responded to each new challenge.” The entity estimates that the associated operators have performed more than 6.5 million remote consultations between March 2020 and November 2021. After being questioned, Bradesco Saúde reinforced the influence of the increase in respiratory infections in the greater demand for care. “The company reiterates that it continues to work, together with its business partners, to serve all its beneficiaries in the most efficient way.”

Also in a note, Amil said it had identified a 260% growth in telehealth consultations in December. “Even with the above-normal waiting time, virtual care remains the most indicated, as it prevents the patient from exposing himself to additional risks inherent in the hospital environment”, says the message. In turn, SulAmérica identified an increase of 600% in the last seven days, with an expectation of greater growth in the coming days. “The company has already doubled its service capacity and continues to expand the hiring of medical professionals for the front line”, he said in the message. THE Young pan, Unimed cited overload on health systems by respiratory infections, but said that the system is “structured to serve its more than 18 million people”.
customers and has been reinforcing teams and assistance structures, including
teleservice”. The health operator also reinforced the recommendations for monitoring symptoms, the importance of vaccination and the priority for remote consultations.

Disclaimer: If you need to update/edit/remove this news or article then please contact our support team Learn more