Government needs to drive awareness about telemedicine and ensure robust security around patient privacy and their health data
The COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdown measures have led to the widespread adoption of telemedicine in India. Against this backdrop, the growing market can expand as well as enhance healthcare access and aid in the success of the country’s national digital health plans, according to GlobalData.
Tracing India’s foray into telemedicine, the release states that it started around two decades ago with a pilot project by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and the country has subsequently seen the gradual entry of commercial healthcare applications in the last decade. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Indian government published new guidelines for telemedicine practice in March 2020 to facilitate access to medical advice just as COVID-19 impeded access to routine healthcare for chronic patients and patients from remote locations. Later, the Ministry of Health launched eSanjeevani OPD—a patient-to-doctor tele-consultation service—in April 2020. It has recently completed nearly one million telemedicine consultations.
Commenting that the COVID-19 pandemic and the resultant social distancing measures gave a fresh impetus to the hitherto sluggish telemedicine segment as Indian patients were keen on personal consultations for non-serious conditions, Sasmitha Sahu, Pharma Analyst at GlobalData, pointed out, “Without proper guidelines in place, doctors and patients alike were somewhat apprehensive about using this medium of healthcare consultations. But with COVID-19 cases not receding yet and no strong therapy or vaccine in place, telemedicine is now increasingly used. This approach saves a lot of time both for patients as well as doctors. The doctors can thus attend to a greater number of patients. In addition, patients from remote areas can have access to specialists.”
The release notes that several telemedicine apps such as DocsApp, Practo and mFine have come up in the recent times which were of immense help during the lockdown period to manage non-emergency as well as chronic medical conditions and have seen a manifold rise in the teleconsultations since March 2020. The diagnostic services and e-pharmacies are further complementary to teleconsultations.
However, telemedicine has its own disadvantages like miscommunication of symptoms by patients, misinterpretation of symptoms by physicians, misdiagnosis, apart from non-medical issues like network issues, app usage and familiarity issues by technologically challenged people and cyber threats.
In August 2020, India announced the National Digital Health Mission (NDHM) to support the universal health coverage with a budget of INR4.7bn ($63.6 million). The NDHM will have health IDs, personal health records, Digi Doctor and a health facility registry.
Sahu concludes that the new digital initiatives by India can leverage the momentum gained in telemedicine to extend healthcare access into the deeper pockets of the country. “While telemedicine cannot replace the traditional medical consultations and hospital visits for emergency conditions and medical procedures, it will certainly reduce the pressure on the healthcare system in a vast and populous country like India with disproportionate healthcare facilities. Hence, the government needs to drive awareness about telemedicine and ensure robust security around patient privacy and their health data. Telemedicine, which is only one component of the much diverse digital health plan, will have a crucial role to play in the success of NDHM.”