Budget 2021 for Healthcare: Covid-19 pandemic has not just tested the limits of present day healthcare system but has also opened new avenues. Telemedicine and online consultation have become an important tool in healthcare. They have helped a great deal in caring for patients during the Coronavirus pandemic ensuring safety for both the patients and the health care workers. The sudden onset of the pandemic caught everyone off guard and put immense pressure on the hospitals. For many patients stuck in home due to lockdowns or in many cases of home isolation, telemedicine and online consultation became the only viable option. The pandemic saw rise of many platforms of teleconsultation which offered surveillance and primary healthcare at home. But many experts have wondered whether the rise of Telemedicines and online consultations in India will fad away after the vaccination drives halts the spread of pandemic and things start returning to ‘normal’. Will these services fit in the ‘normal’ healthcare ecosystem?
Telemedicine only a pandemic phenomenon ?
Talking to Financial Express Online Ayush Mishra, CEO of Tattvan E-clinics said that he believes telemedicine will continue to exist and expect that in the post-pandemic era, around 40-50 percent of their OPD will continue to be conducted through teleconsultation together with other innovations in the industry including AI, ML, Tele-mobile operator services, etc. “The Covid-19 situation worldwide made people realize the potential of digitization in this sector and opened up newer opportunities for major companies to explore broader avenues. This is where telemedicine comes into the picture subsequent to the8y issuance of legal guidelines by the Government of India in March 2020 which gave us a clear picture of teleconsultation and telemedicine practice in India. Over the last few months, millions of people have relied on video or telephone calls to talk to their medical professionals and doctors for discussing their medical issues. Even as the lockdown lifts, clinicians feel that telemedicine consultations with patients are here to stay for the long haul to keep themselves safe from the infection,” Mishra said.
According to Mishra, telemedicine is here to stay because it is a viable option for the government and corporates to deliver quality healthcare services to the larger rural population. “National Digital Health Mission will also push this sector to grow in the country in the coming years,” he added.
Anmol Arora, CEO of DocVita backed Mishra’s views and said that while it is true that the pandemic necessitated its adoption by both care-givers and care-seekers, it is here to stay in the post-pandemic world as well. “We can attribute this change to all stakeholders’ advantages and associated cost savings, convenience, and reduced burden on our healthcare facilities. On a macro level, in a country like India, telemedicine is also the answer to problems like inequity & lack of healthcare access. Healthcare has taken center stage in 2020. With the announcement of NDHM earlier this year, and Dr. Harsh Vardhan approving the health data management policy of NDHM, we expect a surge in budget allocation this year, especially for setting up digital health infrastructure for India,” Arora opines.
For Doctor on Call’s Co – Founder Karan Chopra telemedicine is here to stay because it has found an an increasing acceptance. “Most people preferred to visit physicians in person, but amid the pandemic realized virtual visits are safer and more convenient as compared to physical visits. Govt. is supporting the cause as well as they’ve issued policy guidelines related to telemedicine and doctors have become very comfortable with the technology,” Chopra said.
“Once the players in the ecosystem realize the convenience and cross the initial barrier, there will be more takers. Some estimates put 25-30% of all home care and OP visits will be virtualized in future,” Karan Chopra added.
Giving the example of China, Chopra said that digital adoption of healthcare went up post SARS in the early 2000s and has stayed up ever since. “Covid is that moment for the rest of the world and would transform healthcare delivery completely,” Chopra predicted.
Expectations from Union Budget of India 2021
Looking ahead at the upcoming Union Budget of India, Ayush Mishra said India has combated a massive global pandemic with its resources available in the health sector. Stressing the need of having more technologically advanced and robust last-mile health facilities in India post-Pandemic, Mishra said that the health sector is expecting more specific allotments in this year’s budget to mitigate Covid and growth of the telemedicine sector. “The government should also support startups and private players in this segment to increase the current coverage of the locations including tier-2 and tier-3 cities to provide the advanced healthcare facilities in these areas. The telemedicine segment is growing and in the future, we are expecting more technological innovations to take place in the industry, so the budget should be well allocated to the healthcare sector to initiate new innovations to be prepared for the fight with pandemics like covid-19 in the future,” said Mishra putting forth his expectations from the Union Budget of India 2021.
Karan Chopra’s expectations from the Budget 2021 are also focused on budget support for healthcare. “It is important especially in a country like India where digital health can truly provide care to areas with short supply of doctors. Healthcare platforms connecting patients to doctors have to pay GST on their revenues, whereas broader healthcare services are exempt under GST,” Chopra said. He said that such platforms should also be exempted from GST and subsidies given in Budget for health-tech players can also promote innovation in the sector.