Original Research

Doctor-perceived-barriers to telephone clinics at KwaZulu-Natal hospitals during the COVID-19 pandemic

Lushen Pillay, Renata Govender, Somasundram Pillay
South African Family Practice | Vol 63, No 1 : Part 3| a5334 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/safp.v63i1.5334 | © 2021 Lushen Pillay, Renata Govender, Somasundram Pillay | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 20 May 2021 | Published: 26 August 2021

About the author(s)

Lushen Pillay, Department of Gastroenterology, Princess Alexandra Hospital, Harlow, United Kingdom
Renata Govender, Department of Medicine, King Edward VIII Hospital, Durban, South Africa
Somasundram Pillay, Department of Medicine, King Edward VIII Hospital, Durban, South Africa; AND, Nelson R Mandela School of Clinical Medicine, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa


Background: The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has led to an unprecedented international emergency, resulting in a need to adapt the existing healthcare systems, in order to enable ongoing patient care despite the current disruptions. Telemedicine may be a viable option to continue hospital workflow, however there are barriers to its implementation. We set out to establish what barriers might exist and to assess the viability of teleclinics within the province KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), as perceived by doctors.

Methods: This was a quantitative, observational, survey-based study targeted at medical doctors working in both the public as well as the private healthcare sector in University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN).

Results: One hundred and forty-seven (147) responses were included. The majority (86%) of respondents felt that telemedicine could provide a useful means to continuing hospital workflow, however, only 47% believed that it was a viable option for their unit. The major barrier identified was a feeling that doctors would-be at-increased medico-legal risk. Only 38.4% of doctors were familiar with the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) guidelines on telemedicine usage. Other major barriers included: doctors feeling uncomfortable with not seeing a patient in person or not being able to perform a thorough physical examination. Other reasons identified as potential barriers were doctors foreseeing difficulty in accessing patient medical records and the absence of available systems to order investigations without the patient being physically present.

Conclusion: Telemedicine is currently not widely utilised in KZN; although most doctors were of the opinion that it could be a useful tool in order to continue the workflow during the pandemic. The major barrier identified were issues surrounding medico-legal coverage.


telemedicine; telehealth; COVID-19; barriers to healthcare; social distancing


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