How telemedicine is silently making India’s healthcare ecosystem future-ready

Over the last few months, due to COVID-19, telemedicine has seen exponential growth. Shashank ND, Co-Founder and CEO of Practo, writes about the robust growth it saw during the pandemic, and what lies ahead.
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India’s healthcare ecosystem is on the cusp of a paradigm shift. After remaining resistant to reform for the longest time, the sector is now open to innovation and digital technology-driven medical assistance that became a necessity amid the pandemic. The more the viral strain confined people to their homes, the more virtual care became a reality.

Yes, telemedicine is having its moment, and it’s here to stay. Over the past few months, there has been a curious uptick among people to see a doctor over a video call, seek diagnosis virtually, and even order medicines online. Online consultations on Practo itself went up substantially in a span of six-eight months.

Sweeping expansion of telehealth facilities on the horizon

Recent research has predicted robust growth in the country’s telemedicine (e-consults, e-pharmacy) sector between now and 2025 – at a 31 percent compound annual growth rate, securing up to $5.5 billion. The discourse, however, is not limited to making doctor consultations easy and digitising patients’ health records. Now is the time to be smart and future-ready.

AI-enabled healthcare services are here to assist providers in non-medical areas and likewise share their workload on the operational side.

At a time when India is already in need of more skilled healthcare staff and even better infrastructure, telemedicine can come in handy to transform the entire medical landscape into a more cost-efficient and asset-light system.

Keeping in mind its potential and growing popularity, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW), together with NITI Aayog and Board of Governors (BoG) Medical Council of India (MCI), has issued telemedicine guidelines. This is a particularly encouraging update for India’s rural population and people who live in Tier-IIand Tier-III cities, where teleconsultation and e-pharmacy are still seen as sophisticated modes to access healthcare.

The telemedicine take-off is also in tandem with the goal set by the Government of India’s Common Service Centres to introduce telehealth facilities within the country’s rural communities, which along with modern medicine, will slowly foray into homeopaethy and Ayurveda.

State support is expected to translate to more funding and investment in the sector, eventually strengthening the country’s position on the global healthcare map.

Bringing doctors closer to patients

While the trend is promising, it is important to note here that the change is not going to come about overnight.

It’s about building a sense of trust and reliability among the common masses just as much as it is about rolling out a wider suite of innovations and tech products in a phased but seamless manner.

People need to be assured that the healthcare system has turned the corner, only to bring doctors, hospitals, and caregivers closer to patients.

They no longer have to spend hours in the waiting room for a 10-minute consultation with their physicians. All they need to do is book an appointment with the doctor online and log in from home at the scheduled time.

It’s quite interesting to see how the COVID-19 crisis has already made many people – particularly those suffering from lifestyle and prolonged disease and the elderly, who are already counted among the vulnerable lot – inclined towards surfing the internet to seek care. They now understand the benefits of telemedicine and are well-versed with the procedures.

This, in turn, has encouraged doctors to sit up and take notice of patients who might be contacting them from far-flung places. Although remote locations continue to be plagued by poor internet connectivity, virtual visits are still favoured over making the rounds of crowded clinics and medical facilities, while the culture of reaching out only to the ‘family doctor’ also seems to be gradually fading away.

Ensuring sustainable access to healthcare

Healthcare facilities are now being made accessible to rural communities, especially women, who are often deprived of even the basic amenities when it comes to medical care. Blame it on the lack of awareness, freedom of choice, or the inability to travel miles to cities to meet a doctor, women usually settle for poor services in their villages and remote areas, although in most cases they need more attention than men.

Telemedicine can go a long way in potentially disburdening hospitals of medical waste and pave the way for them to adopt more environmentally sustainable practices.

During the peak of the pandemic, hospitals across the globe saw heaps of single-use gloves and gowns, pronouncing the pandemic’s impact on healthcare’s carbon footprint.

Online consultations, on the other hand, mean that patients do not have to travel miles to meet a specialist in person, avoiding the use of any protective equipment. The quick virtual prescription will also enable doctors to save time and attend to more patients, alongside engaging in doctor-to-doctor training. After the launch of the coronavirus vaccine, remote patient monitoring is going to be crucial in gauging its effect at large.

Virtual hospitals are already functioning in Australia, while telemedicine is steadily making inroads into the UK as well. Dr Sam Wessely, a general practitioner in London, had told The New York Times that they witnessed a decade of change in just one week, in terms of switching to telehealth.

At present, African nations are using telemedicine as a tool to bridge the mental health gap. These examples testify to the emergence of telemedicine globally, with India, too, swiftly transitioning.

Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)

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