As the number of cases in France continue to rise hospitals are enacting their emergency plans in order to cope with the high number of patients.
Many hospitals have set up testing centres in temporary buildings or marquees outside the main building, so that people who need testing can access services without coming into the hospital and potentially infecting staff or vulnerable patients. Medical students and retired doctors are being called in.
A testing centre in Creteil, near Paris. Photo: AFP
But there are also concerns about community healthcare services, in particular GPs or family doctors.
People who think they may have coronavirus are asked not to visit their local doctor or hospital, but instead to call the ambulance service – on the number 15 – and tell the operator it is a suspected case of coronavirus.
There is also a helpline number – 0800 130 000 – that can deal with all non-medical queries.
But now the health minister has also authorised a relaxation on the rules of télémedicine or online medical consultations.
Online consultations have been available in France under certain circumstances since 2018, but during the coronavirus outbreak health minister Olivier Véran says the government is relaxing the rules and encouraging more people to use them.
The consultations can be used to monitor patients, offer advice or issue medical certificates so that people who are self isolating can claim paid sick leave.
The method allows people who are self isolating to limit their movements and also protects the doctors themselves – one of the first cases recorded in the UK was a GP.
Services in Mulhouse, Haut-Rhin, one of the coronavirus cluster zones. Photo: AFP
So who can access online consultations?
Previously you could only have an online consultation with a general practitioner who you had seen in person over the last year.
This restriction has been temporarily scrapped and anyone with good reason to believe they have or are at risk of getting coronavirus can have an online medical consultation.
Not all doctors offer this service so you don't have to see your registered medicine traitant, but people must see a doctor in their local area, in order to encourage follow up treatment and monitoring.
The online service was first opened up at the end of January for people who had recently returned from coronavirus affected areas of China, but with the spread of the disease it has now been opened up to anyone who has concerns over coronavirus.
How do you access them?
At present most online consultations are offered through the Consulib platform owned by the popular medical app Doctolib. The app's owners said during the outbreak it will waive the sign-up fee for doctors who want to join its platform.
Consulib says it has seen a 40 percent jump in online consultations in the past five days.
Véran, in an interview with FranceInfo, also suggested that doctors could use general platforms such as FaceTime or WhatsApp to contact their patients for online consultations.
And how much does it cost?
In a normal doctor's consultation in France, you pay the doctor – either by cash or bank card – and the doctor then swipes your carte vitale, which allows the government to reimburse the money straight into your bank account.
If you use the Consulib app you register your bank card and carte vitale with the app when you sign up so you can be charged and then reimbursed.
Normally doctors are allowed to charge less for an online appointment than for an in-person one – between €12 and €20 compared to €25 to €30 – but during the coronavirus outbreak, Véran said that doctors will be able to charge the normal consultation fee for an online appointment.