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Chinese doctor puts overseas Chinese in Spain at ease with online consultations

(People's Daily Online)    17:08, March 27, 2020

“Doctor Zhang, my daughter has a fever. Her temperature is now 38.1 degrees celsius.”

“Does she also have chills? When was the last time she went out? Did she take any preventive measures? What means of transportation did she take?”

Online consultations like this have been going for over half a month in a WeChat group called “Doctor Zhang’s expert consulting room” established by the Wenzhou Federation of Returned Overseas Chinese in Wenzhou, east China’s Zhejiang province. It was set up specially to help overseas Chinese fight the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

The doctor providing the online medical consultation services in the WeChat group is Zhang Zhiyuan, who is from the department of respiratory medicine and department of critical care medicine in Wenzhou Central Hospital. The other members of the WeChat group are made up of volunteers and overseas Chinese in Spain.

Zhang cannot recall how many patients he has received, but he knows each patient’s situation very well, as he makes time to pay them return visits every day.

A patient from one of the families he pays return visits to was hospitalized after her consultation with Zhang, but has thankfully now recovered.

“The family of three came for a consultation together,” said Zhang, explaining that the mother and son both had fever. He instructed the three family members to quarantine themselves separately at home, take their temperatures, and disinfect and ventilate their rooms every day.

A few days later, the son’s fever was gone, and he tested negative for COVID-19 twice, giving the family a little relief.

Noticing that the mother still had a high temperature and other symptoms including loss of sense of taste, Zhang’s intuition as a doctor told him that she was probably infected with the novel coronavirus.

At Zhang’s suggestion, the mother went to see a doctor in a local hospital the next day, and was hospitalized for emergency treatment after she was found to have hyoxemia, a dangerous lack of oxygen.

When Zhang paid a return visit to the mother on March 24, he found that her condition had already improved.

Thanks to Zhang’s online diagnosis, treatment, and observation, four to five patients with mild symptoms have gradually recovered.

“When I hear news about our fellow countrymen getting better, I also feel happy,” Zhang said.

Zhang believes that there are some suspected cases of COVID-19 in the WeChat group, most of whom are showing symptoms including fever.

While fever is a major symptom, Zhang is more concerned about whether these patients are also suffering breathing difficulties.

“The diagnostic criteria in Europe are different from those in China. They will test a patient only when he or she has had a fever for five consecutive days and has shortness of breath,” Zhang said, explaining that this symptom “could be the difference between a mild and severe case. If patients show symptoms of dyspnea but are not intervened and treated in time, they will probably become severe patients.”

“How I wish I could put them in quarantine and observe them for 14 days if they were in China,” Zhang said, worrying about overseas Chinese who may now even get anxious about common cold symptoms, as they are faced with limited medical resources and services abroad.

Zhang created forms specifically for his overseas patients, allowing them to record their health conditions at any time. He gives them detailed information on things like which one of two similar drugs to take, the do’s and don’ts of medication, and how to deal with the side effects.

To better help patients in Spain, Zhang has even adapted to the European time of his overseas patients.

“I have hardly been to bed before midnight in the past half a month,” Zhang said, adding that he never mutes his phone for fear of missing a message.

In addition to providing medical consultations for overseas patients via the WeChat group and an app, Zhang has also requested assignment to a designated hospital for treating patients with COVID-19 in Wenzhou.

There are a total of 31 patients with mild symptoms in the inpatient area where Zhang works. Besides making the rounds of the wards and carrying out routine observation and treatment duties, Zhang also chats with all the patients every day.

Once, a patient went to the bathroom while Zhang made the rounds of the wards. That patient called him and talked with him over the phone for more than 10 minutes after he had finished his round.

“All patients want to be cared for,” said Zhang, who has been a doctor for 11 years since graduating from Zhejiang University with a master’s degree.

For him, the happiest moment is when he sees an improvement in his patient’s condition, according to Zhang.

“I feel that helping people get back to health is more important than money or fame,” Zhang said, adding, “I’m glad I can be a doctor.” 

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)(Web editor: Hongyu, Bianji)

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