By Anurag Khosla,
Telemedicine is not a new concept in India and has been in existence since 2001, first introduced by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO). The Health Ministry then established a National Telemedicine Taskforce in 2005, under the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW), but the pace of adoption since then has been unhurried. Healthcare providers too, until the pandemic, did not feel the need to scale up telemedicine usage considering the majority of patients preferred visiting a facility. Patients were sceptical about its reliability and were not sure if the doctor would be able to properly diagnose their condition/symptoms or if they would receive good treatment or experience telephonically compared to a physical visit.
Disruption that Covid brought in everyone’s life globally is undeniable, especially when it compelled both healthcare providers and patients to reimagine healthcare delivery at a time when physical health infra fell short of the urgent demand. During this time, telemedicine became the innovation catalyst in providing quality medical care at people’s homes.
According to a leading research firm, the telehealth market in India stands at US$ 13.15 billion in FY2021 and is expected to grow at a CAGR of 22.31%. Telemedicine is now expanding into other high tech sub segments like Remote Patient Monitoring, e-ICU & mobile health facility. Despite early signs showing Covid spread coming under control, people may still continue using digital healthcare facilities from their homes rather than visiting a hospital unless absolutely necessary. This will lead to lower footfalls in hospitals compared to pre Covid levels, thus encouraging healthcare providers to expand telehealth services to stay afloat. India’s rural population can greatly benefit from telemedicine which is bridging the quality care gap effectively. State-of-the-art urban healthcare facilities can connect patients in remote areas to provide cost effective care they need.
In addition to the falling walk-ins, telemedicine is also getting the necessary push through Government of India’s telemedicine practice guidelines published in 2020, which made telehealth a legitimate delivery channel. Further, IRDAI’s approval to include telehealth as part of claim settlement wherever applicable and rising utilization of online consultations as an alternative to physical hospital visits, complemented by India’s expanding internet & mobile connectivity are all positive steps towards rapid adoption of telehealth in India.
The recently launched National Digital Health Mission (NDHM) is testimony to the Indian Government’s recognition of telehealth as a viable solution to India’s healthcare infra inadequacy. NDHM has provisions like Health ID, Digi-Doctor, Health Facility Registry (HFR), Personal Health Records (PHR) and Electronic Medical Records. In fact, Prime Minister Modi recently announced that e-Sanjeevani, the Government’s telemedicine service for the general public, has served over 50 lakh patients since the pandemic started.
Telemedicine adoption also depends on the practitioners’ competence in specific skills like effective remote examination, ability to handle emergencies, accurate diagnosis, effective communication and empathy that can emulate physical consultation. Therefore, including telemedicine in undergrad and postgrad medical education will be essential for India to be able to scale up telemedicine services. Private players like vHealth by Aetna upskill their MBBS doctors for telemedicine using curriculum prepared in collaboration with Swiss telemedicine pioneer, Medgate.
Most Providers in India are following organic strategies like new service launches, providing add-on facilities and services to their clients, improvising their telemedicine services and integrating it with AI/ML technology to enhance treatment delivery and create new models of care. Encouraged by the success of telemedicine during the pandemic and recognition of it by all stakeholders in the value chain, its growth in India is likely to persevere and play a pivotal role in providing access to Affordable & Quality Healthcare for all citizens.
(The author is CEO of vHealth By Aetna India. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of the Financial Express Online.)
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