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Embracing mechanism of telemedicine in developing country like India

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Kunal Kishore Dhawan, Co- Founder, Navia Life Care shares insights into the exponential growth of telemedicine in India due to the COVID-19 induced lockdown and how people are adjusting to it and making it a part of their routine lives

Telemedicine can be effective in decreasing the pressure primary, rural and urban healthcare centres face throughout the year. Being a developing country, India has to worry about a plethora of diseases, new disease treatment, patient management and follow-ups.

Why does India require vigorous telemedicine?

Establishing a uniform infrastructure and record maintenance system at the present hospitals and nursing homes in the country has been an ongoing struggle for the state Departments of Health as well as the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

Telemedicine can be a much-needed break from the lack of organisation of patient records. At the same time, it can reduce transportation cost the patient has to bear and bridge the gap of communication that many rural healthcare centres face in the event of an emergency.

The complete adoption of telemedicine can also reduce the cost of the country’s healthcare system since non-critical patients can be monitored and treated online.

The origin of telemedicine in India

The potential of telemedicine in India is significant as a tool for the delivery of healthcare. The government of India made the first move to introduce telemedicine in the country in 2000. Ever since then, the development of the telemedicine infrastructure across the country has been incessant.

The first run of telemedicine in India

Both urban and rural areas receive healthcare thanks to multiple coalition projects like the one between Webel ECS, the state government of WB, IIT Kharagpur and multiple tertiary and primary medical centres. Ongoing telemedicine projects in the country cover specialities and subspecialties like oncology, neurology, cardiology, dermatology, HIV, radiology, orthopaedics, internal medicine and paediatrics.

Ongoing successful telemedicine project in India

One of the most successful telemedicine projects in India is the Kerala Oncology Network or the Onconet – Kerala. Its goal was to explore the importance of telemedicine in the early detection of cancer, its prognosis, treatment, pain management and follow-up services.

The 2001 project also included the launch of TEJHAS (Telemedicine Enabled Java-Based Hospital Automation System). It is an electronic database that can maintain the patient records and make patient information accessible to all medical centres part of the project.

Expected market growth of telemedicine in India

Compared to the first world countries, the Indian telemedicine market is still nascent. The spread of the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the use of telemedicine apps in the country. Back in 2019, the Indian telemedicine market was predicted to reach $32 million by 2020. However, in the light of the extended lockdown and quarantine regulations, telehealth apps have seen a growth of over 178 per cent in the remote consultations for flu-like symptoms only.

In the light of the novel coronavirus pandemic, MoHFW has issued guidelines for telemedicine services / projects in collaboration with Board of Governors (BoGs), Medical Council of India and NITI Ayog. One of the biggest advantages of telemedicine is that it will provide protection to frontline healthcare workers by limiting their exposure to COVID-19 cases, but allow them to treat the patients in need. Another advantage is that telemedicine will allow people from all over the country to access necessary healthcare without leaving their homes or breaking quarantine conditions.

The future of telehealth or telemedicine in India

Practo, mfine etc. are only some of the telemedicine platforms that expect an increased influx of doctors who want to consult online, as private specialised practices are seeing a hit during the lockdown. mfine has seen a four-times increase in patient volume since the novel coronavirus outbreak in the country.

On the other hand, more number of people are opting for mobile telemedicine services for the delivery of monthly medication, booking online appointments with their specialists and even booking for home-based sample collection for testing. An increasing number of medical professionals are signing up for offering tele-consultancy to their existing and new patients.

Although the growth flux is sudden and temporary, telemedicine start-ups were already growing steadily in the country. They were providing access to unified healthcare to patients and trustworthy record-keeping for medical practitioners in urban, semi-urban and rural settings.

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