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Telemedicine: The Biggest Tech-Disruptor to Foster Accessible Healthcare

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With proliferation of smart tech-devices, telemedicine has emerged as a big boon today bridging hundreds kilometer of geographical barrier which used to pose a big obstacle till last decade. The technology has enabled doctors sitting at big hospital chain in metro cities to provide quality care to patients residing in remotest part of country within no time. Mukul Kumar Mishra of Elets News Network (ENN) highlights different contours of the technology in succinct manner.

Over the last some decades, medical science has grown in leaps & bounds and credit goes to ever-increasing influx of technology which is fast making inroads in every sphere of life. Thinking of leading the life without computer, laptops and modern-day gadgets seems unfathomable today and even a novice can vouch for the same.

Technologies like Artificial Intelligence, Cloud Computing, Big Data, Virtual Reality, and Telemedicine have the potential to radically revolutionise the entire healthcare industry. These tools have proved crucial to provide enhanced value-based care for consumers and more personalised and customised user experience.

Not only has technology changed patients’ experiences, but it also has had a huge impact on medical processes and the practices of healthcare professionals. These modern-day tools have assisted experts to delivery care even in remotest part of country with same accuracy and urgency.

TELEMEDICINE TO CREATE ACCESSIBLE AND AFFORDABLE MODEL OF HEALTHCARE

Telemedicine, an emerging technology holds huge importance as India grapples with shortage of doctors.

Dr Inder Maurya, Founder & CEO, Foreign OPD, an online second opinion medical consultation platform which offers one to one consultation with world- renowned medical experts to patients, says, “Telemedicine or telehealth introduced in the late 1960s has matured over time. The newer form of technologies like remote patient monitoring tools (eg wireless ambulatory, ECG or electrocardiography etc), and digital consultation via video and email have really revolutionised patient care and reduced human effort.”

The unprecedented increase in the number of patients majorly due to non-communicable diseases, huge expectations for personalised care, and serious dearth in the number of caregivers have left the healthcare industry with no other option but to leverage telemedicine and other such digital solutions to enable people to avail better care in terms of quality and cost-efficiency. The efficient and cost-effective solution has played a vital role in facilitating diagnostics, treatment, prevention, research, education and analytics.

Accessibility has been a perennial problem of the Indian healthcare sector. Skewed ratio of doctors proves to be a major issue affecting rural healthcare. In remote parts of India, either doctors are not available in sufficient number or they are not qualified enough to tackle serious health complications. Telemedicine is proving to be best tool to fill these gaps.

“90 percent of healthcare professionals today are available on digital platforms amplifying healthcare services in the remotest part of India, saving lives, and money. It provides great opportunity to connect with doctors globally which used to be a great challenge. It has turned into a boon thanks to telehealth technology,” Maurya further said.

WHAT IS EXACTLY THE TELEMEDICINE?

It is basically a synergy of medical science and Information technology. It can be defined as the delivery of healthcare services using information and communication technology to exchange or transmit information and records for the reason of treatment, diagnosis, and prevention of diseases and injuries.

Dr Lavanya Aribandi, Chief Medical Officer, ekincare, says: “In telemedicine model of healthcare delivery, a patient located in a remote location, connects with the provider through a chat or audio or video consultation. Medical records can be uploaded in quick manner which in turn helps doctor to provide medical advice.”

“In an age of high speed internet where physical distance is minor barrier to working and interacting, telemedicine is delivering better healthcare support to patients at homes,” believes Ayush Mishra CEO & Co Founder, Tattavan E Clinics, a startup which has established e clinics all across Uttar Pradesh.

The startup has connected healthcare services in nine villages across their existing centers (Bareilly, Kashipur, Saharanpur, Dehradun & Pilibhit). “Non-qualified doctors are practicing with ease and making money by misguiding and giving wrong treatments to poor patients. With the help of Gram Sewa Kendra, we have started our new service initiative in nine villages across all our centers. Tattvan provides them right advice with qualified doctors at very nominal charges of Rs 90,” Mishra states.

MARKET OPPORTUNITY

A recent report from the Business Research Company shows that the global market for telemedicine technology, currently worth $31.8 billion, will reach $77.2 billion by 2022. As per a report by ASSOCHAM, India’s telemedicine market, which has been growing at a CAGR of over 20 percent, holds the potential to cross $ 32 million marks by 2020 from the current figure of $15 million. The implementation of the technology could save India $4 billion to $5 billion every year and replace half of in-person outpatient consultations in the country, a report released by McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) has estimated.

TELEMEDICINE BOLSTERING PATIENT CARE: INCREASES ACCESS TO HEALTHCARE IN RURAL AREAS

Through the concept of telemedicine, patients in remote locations can more easily access and obtain any kind of clinical services. Moreover, hospitals in rural regions can be enabled to provide emergency and intensive care services with the aid of specialised professionals in urban locations.

IMPROVES OUTCOMES

Early diagnosis and treatment often provide improved health outcomes. Moreover, telemedicine offers reduced mortality rates and lesser complications as there is an immediate transmission of health records and data.

REDUCES COST-TO-POCKET EXPENDITURE

Since telemedicine is a cost-effective alternative to hospital stays, they reduce healthcare costs for patients. Home monitoring programmes are better than high-cost hospital visits and stays. During times of emergencies, high-cost transfers and patient care can be reduced via telemedicine.

FILL INFRASTRUCTURAL GAPS:

In India, there is a great shortage for  healthcare in rural areas because of irregular distribution of healthcare providers. Telemedicine helps combat the problem by assisting healthcare providers in addressing shortages and giving access to healthcare, irrespective of time and place when needed.

EASY ACCESS TO SPECIALISTS

Medical specialists located in urban areas can serve patients at rural regions using telemedicine technologies. Instead of driving to a medical practice, patients can get immediate access to the specialist from anywhere in the world through the concept of telemedicine. That way, telemedicine serves to significantly increase patient satisfaction.

REMOTE MONITORING

Telemedicine has a strong role in facilitating collaborative care and continuity model. It creates the possibility of monitoring patient health remotely by collecting and sending medical data through electronic means for immediate interpretation. Such remote access/ monitoring is greatly beneficial for homebound critical/emergency patients where constant monitoring is a must.

STATES LEVERAGING TELEMEDICINE PLATFORM

Many States including Jharkhand, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh have been leveraging the tool to leapfrog delivery of patient care.

The Jharkhand Government along with Apollo Telehealth has set up digital dispensaries in different parts of the State so that patients could be connected easily to doctors through video calls. In Rajasthan, the telemedicine centre has been established at the Mahatma Gandhi Hospital (MGH) which enables tele-consultation at 120 centres in various districts, satellite hospitals and community health centres CHCs of the state. The Odisha Government is all set to introduce a new tele-medicine policy to expand tele-medicine network to district headquarters hospitals (DHHs) and wellness centres functioning under Medical Colleges and Hospitals. The Uttar Pradesh Government is also leveraging the tool to make a giant leap in rural healthcare. “Patients are being given particular time slot when expert doctors sitting in cities like Delhi or Lucknow appear on the tech- driven web screen and guide patients about clinical treatment. Best part of the technology that both patient and doctors don’t physically present at the location but communicate in better manner to exchange information,” said Jai Pratap Singh, Minister for Medical, Health and Family Welfare, Government of Uttar Pradesh.

CHALLENGES

As any technology has its pros and cons, so with the telemedicine. There are many challenges which need to be tackled to leverage its full potential. Like most technology solutions, telemedicine platforms usually require training and high-end equipment. Getting required skilled workforce is uphill task for providers working in rural areas.

Other obstacles are linguistic diversity, slow internet speed and intermittent power supply. In India with over 22 officially recognised languages and over 1600 mother tongues, linguistic diversity seems a major barrier in the way of a patient in one region being able to talk to a doctor in another region. In addition, lack of proper guidelines and legislative muscle is hampering expansion of this paradigm. Concerns on the use of data, safety of data transfer, privacy are some of the key issues that need attention from policymakers.

Nonetheless, the tool is proving to be biggest disruptor which has potential to transform delivery of healthcare services, enabling people at large to avail accessible and affordable patient care. A well- planned robust strategy is needed to ebb all the obstacles, jeopardizing the implementation process.

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