The pandemic, the restrictions, and the fear of catching the virus have created a cocktail that will prevent patients from flocking to the hospitals for a long time. At least for minuscule complaints like cold, flu, and headaches. Simultaneously, this has given an impetuous to the nascent industry of Telemedicine in our country.
Apps like DocsApp, Medibuddy, Practo, and mFine have reported a 200% increase in calls from patients seeking medical consultation over the phone. Also, they have enrolled a big chunk of doctors to meet the rising demand. Rather innovative applications like Heylth, which provides virtual home-based hospitalization have appeared in the market and seem promising.
Why the sudden surge?
Understandably, no-one wants to visit the hospital right now. Given an opportunity to call a doctor, or connect over video chat seems like a reasonable alternative.
A major roadblock for telemedicine was the curtailment prescription of medications over the phone as well as no clear guidelines so as to how the digital consultation should go about. There was always an underlying fear of rubbing elbows with the law when a doctor decided to venture into telemedicine.
This has changed since the release of the New Telemedicine Practice Guidelines by the MoHFw, in accordance with Niti ayog. It gives the doctor, the authority to prescribe the medications as well as ensures that all patient and doctor data is secured. This gave reassurance to doctors who earlier were hesitant to use telemedicine. The doctors during these time prefer to use digital means to avoid contact and further get exposed since they are the torchbearers in this fight against the virus.
Also, the Government of India has swiftly set up telemedicine helplines in association with prominent medical institutions of the country. Some of the start-ups in this field, also have made tie-ups with hospitals to provide these services to the patients.
Also, the widespread use of mobile devices and the internet has definitely added to the easy use of such applications.
Getting locked down at home, people who never got time to care for their health or their loved ones had genuine concerns and went on to talk to doctors to take advice for preventive measures.
COVID 19 scare, saw an increase of about 200% in the number of calls to enquire about symptoms of cough, flu, and fever.
The stimulus provided by the pandemic to this industry has followed the same pattern in most prominent countries including the USA and UK.
What does the future seem like?
In a country like India, where access to healthcare has always been a hitch for people in terms of healthcare, virtual medicine can help bridge the gap and find a niche where it can be highly successful. Although it does seem to hit some roadblocks over the course.
The real problem of accessibility and subpar facilities is primarily faced by the rural Indian population. This stratum does not have access to multimedia mobile devices or to a stable internet connection. Some of them don’t even speak Hindi or English. Only if this population is benefited, will we truly move forward in the direction of universal healthcare!
Yes, telemedicine will reduce the huge ques in hospital outpatient departments, but there ought to be some patients who might be mismanaged or some diagnosis that is missed due to lack of communication or physical examination. In such cases, who takes the onus? The doctor, or the technology team?
Indian population has lived the past 50 years, using doctors and hospital visits as a service that they deserve. Some patients only get satisfied with physical doctor sittings and examinations. This attitude has been toppled over by the present pandemic. But will this continue post the pandemic is still questionable? Changing the attitude of the public will be a big roadblock.
With the ban on applications from China, fearing sensitive data extraction , a pertinent question would be how safe the medical data is? Medical data is highly private, for the patient and the doctor. At the same tine this data is highly useful for research purposes. Adequate privacy and encryption of data are the need of the hour if telemedicine continues to grow at its viral rate.
The pandemic for sure will act as an inflection point in the use of virtual tools as part of healthcare services. Though, the process of merging it into mainstream patient management appears to be a bumpy ride.
Would love to know what you think about telemedicine and its scope in India?
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