How telemedicine is expanding the reach of the Indian healthcare system? | The Financial Express

How telemedicine is expanding the reach of the Indian healthcare system?

With increasing internet penetration in remote areas and acceptance of technology as a great enabler towards better healthcare, telemedicine is expected to witness a major boost over the coming years.

How telemedicine is expanding the reach of the Indian healthcare system?
One example of telemedicine making a real difference in the lives of people living in remote areas is in the hilly state of Uttarakhand. (File)

By Vikram Thaploo

Among the various technological advancements that are taking the healthcare industry by storm, telemedicine has emerged as a significant one. Catapulted by the pandemic to safely deliver and access care, telemedicine is helping healthcare professionals to reach places where there is a need, especially those living in rural remote areas of India.

With the rise in the incidence of non-communicable diseases and increasing healthcare costs, the traditional healthcare system is already under a lot of stress. In addition, the country faces a severe shortage of estimated 600K doctors and 2 million nurses, as per reports.The doctor-to-patient ratio in India is 1:1456 against the WHO recommendation of 1:1000. Also, there is an acute shortage of beds in hospitals which further makes the situation worse. In such a scenario, telemedicine is emerging as a viable tool to bridge the gaps in healthcare accessibility, bringing expert access to care right within the comfort of the home.

Ways Telemedicine is increasing the Reach of Quality Healthcare to Various Parts of India

While the doctor-to-patient ratio in India is a concerning matter, equally concerning is the fact that a majority of healthcare professionals prefer to live in the urban cities, away from the rural regions, where almost 68.84 per cent of the population resides. This mismatch creates an unprecedented burden on the already overburdened healthcare system of the country. However, telemedicine is effectively combatting this mismatch by ensuring easy access to healthcare in any part of India.

One example of telemedicine making a real difference in the lives of people living in remote areas is in the hilly state of Uttarakhand. The Government of Tehri Garhwal with the financial assistance of THDC India Limited has established telemedicine centres in the state. The centres are run by qualified healthcare professionals or nurses who act as an interface between the specialist doctor in the District Hospital and patients at the village health centre. Nearly 48.7 per cent of the queries are processed in less than ten minutes of satellite time, and the physical presence of a specialist is necessary only 30 per cent of the time.Given the constraints of topography and terrain, access to public healthcare services is a big challenge in the area which has been successfully addressed through telemedicine services.

The Tuver health and wellness centre programme is another innovative initiative by Apollo Telehealth that has been operational for more than two years in a remote tribal village known as Tuver, in Gujarat. Even during the times of the pandemic, the programme continued to provide essential primary healthcare services. The program consists of a wide range of healthcare services which includes primary, speciality and super speciality teleconsultations; pharmacy; basic diagnostic tests; digital services through Common Services Centre (CSC) and preventive screening and health promotion through awareness. Due to the immense benefits the programme has offered to 25-plus adjacent villages along with Tuver, the program has been accepted by the rural and tribal communities.In addition to that, Apollo Telehealth also provides much needed emergency, speciality and super-speciality consultation services to locations at around 14,500 feet above sea level in the state of Himachal Pradesh.

Another noteworthy example of successfully establishing telemedicine services in India includes taking care of healthcare needs during the religious gathering of Kumbha Mela. The Uttar Pradesh government practices telemedicine services during Maha Kumbha Mela through mobile vans equipped with videoconferencing systems for visual communication which enables doctors in remote places to connect to any of the telemedicine‑enabled medical hospitals for expert opinion.

The Way Forward

With increasing internet penetration in remote areas and acceptance of technology as a great enabler towards better healthcare, telemedicine is expected to witness a major boost over the coming years.Telemedicine can go a long way in disburdening the healthcare system of India provided that there is a robust regulatory framework to safeguard areas of patient privacy and data. Also, for wider usage and adoption, technology should be easily accessible and simple to understand and use, especially for the remote/rural population.

(The author is CEO, Apollo Telehealth. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of the FinancialExpress.com.)

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