Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, there has been a tenfold increase in the number of users of telehealth and telemedicine. Doctors say online consultation will be a great opportunity for the digital health sector.
” We are constantly providing teleconsultation via call and video conferencing after the lockdown. Most doctors in this hospital are providing aid through video conferencing,” Dr. Mukti Prakash, a junior resident in internal medicine at the Banaras Hindu University Trauma Centre, informed The Observer.
Telehealth in India has helped patients to reach out to the doctors at a time when the pandemic has restricted physical visits to avoid the spread of the coronavirus. It has provided them easy access to healthcare services. India has seen the emergence of telemedicine companies like Practo, 1mg and Apollo Medicine.
According to a report released by Practo, 5 crore people accessed telemedicine in the three months ending May 31. Of these, 80 per cent were first-time users. Further, 44 per cent were from non-metro cities like Indore and Jaipur. In-person visits to doctors dropped by 67 per cent.
Piyush Jain, who consulted a doctor through the PhonePe app, said:”Due to the pandemic, it was risky to consult a doctor physically. The online method turned out to be flexible, so I opted for it, the most feasible option.”
Online consultation has helped patients in contacting doctors anywhere in the country.”Telehealth solely benefits patients; we have only one benefit: we can treat patients remotely without having physical contact,” Dr Mukti said.
Pace Hospital, Hyderabad, which went for digitalizing healthcare after the pandemic struck, said it has given online treatment to more than 2 lakh people. Eighteen of its doctors are available 24/7 for online consultation.
Ranjana Agrawal, who booked an appointment on Pace Hospital’s website said: “It was a strange experience, but the doctor made sure I understood everything. I shared the reports on WhatsApp and he prescribed me medicine according to that.”
Her son added:” She was relieved to hear that there wouldn’t be any physical contact with the doctor.”
A report released by Apollo Medicine states that 1 million people registered for teleconsultation in three months. According to a review article by K. Ganapathy, director, Apollo Telemedicine Networking Foundation, there has been a ten-fold increase in telephonic consultation for Covid and non-Covid problems.
In a fast-paced world, where everything has been digitalized and dependent on technology, telehealth is likely to grow in the future. The global telehealth market was valued at US$61,401 million in 2019 and is projected to reach $5,59,518 million in 2027, a growth of more than 800 per cent, according to Fortune Business Insight.
A public health researcher at the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi, which is among the top healthcare centres in India, shared: “Telehealth is working well here, and patients prefer this method as they get a chance to consult some reputable doctors. We have seen a surge in TB cases and neonatorum tetanus cases, a form of generalized tetanus that occurs in newborns, in online consultations.”
But digitalization in the sector has not been user-friendly for most people. But they are willing to give it a try. Dr Devashish Chatterjee, a general physician said: “At first, I was hesitating to use technology for online consultation, but… I got used to it. Physical non-engagement with patients has reduced the risk of getting infected by the virus.”
Ganesh Kumar, a patient who consulted a doctor through Apollo’s telehealth facility, said he had to cancel his appointment as he was not proficient in online payment. The next day, after taking a reappointment, he was fully satisfied with the services provided.
Even though the telehealth sector is of great utility in a time of crisis, certain things require changes. “Instead of telephonic conversation, videoconferencing should be given more emphasis because we need to examine the patient before diagnosing a disease,” said Dr Mukti.
According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, 375 “consults” (single-doctor experiences) were registered within two months. Telehealth has helped to ‘resolve women’s health problems and issues in pregnancy as well during the pandemic.