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Telemedicine providers foray into Tier 2, Tier 3 cities to offer last mile healthcare delivery

MediBuddy helps connect patients to experienced and verified doctors for online consultations across 21 specialties such as Cardiology, Neurology, Dermatology, Paediatrics, Gynaecology, Psychiatry and  Orthopedics instantly via chat, video, or voice call

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ATH has also expanded its service footprint by providing Tele-Ophthalmology services at 115 centres in collaboration with the government across the state.

By Shardul Nautiyal

Organized telemedicine players like Practo, Apollo Telehealth Services, DoctCo, Meddo and MediBuddy among others are today providing telemedicine services in Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities due to rising patient awareness and convenience offered by digital health platforms. MediBuddy helps connect patients to experienced and verified doctors for online consultations across 21 specialties such as Cardiology, Neurology, Dermatology, Paediatrics, Gynaecology, Psychiatry and  Orthopedics instantly via chat, video, or voice call. Additionally, users can order medicines and book lab tests from the comfort of their homes.

Last year, MediBuddy catered to more than 53% patients in tier 2 and tier 3 cities. Because of the lockdown and work from home, most people have returned to their hometowns, which has helped raise awareness in tier 2 and below cities.

Though the idea of telemedicine has been in existence for over a decade now, the sector received its share of attention and acceptance only during and after the Covid-19 pandemic. During pandemic, people could not step out and had to rely on online consultations services for their health. As per industry estimates, the total healthcare market is estimated at Rs 28 lakh crore, with a market size for telemedicine at Rs 3.5 lakh crore.

“Though the concept of telemedicine is new to remote pockets of the country but given the huge population share and lack of adequate medical facilities, over 65% of telemedicine users are from the tier-2 and tier-3 cities,” according to Saurabh Kochhar, Founder and CEO, Meddo, a healthcare startup working on digitizing the OPD sector in India.

“During the first wave of the pandemic, we saw around 80% of our in-clinic consultations move to tele-consultation platform, but as soon as the waves died down and restrictions were lifted off, we saw the spectrum shift back quickly to 80% in-clinic and 20% teleconsults, however this was still a 10% growth from pre-pandemic times. Meddo Health has catered to the needs of over 1 crore patients during the pandemic.” Kocchar added.

DoctCo is setting up Phygital centers in small towns that provide access within a 15-minute distance to super-specialists where patients get the treatment experience. The center is equipped with a doctor and IoMT device that offer consultation between medical specialists and patients that mimics in-person consultations. DoctCo provides end-to-end experience to the patients from OPD to surgical procedures and then follow-ups. The OPD and follow-ups happen within the city limit of the patients. A patient has to undertake travel to tier 1 cities like Delhi/NCR only for surgeries. 

The startup has successfully treated patients from low bandwidth areas like Aligarh, Meerut, and Varanasi among others.

According to Nimith Agrawal, Founder, DoctCo, “DoctCo is managing more than 4000 doctors and super specialists. We have managed to serve more than 500+ villages and 1500+ OPD consultations. It takes care of 7 to 8 specialties and has reputed hospitals on board like Apollo, Fortis, Medanta, Artemis and Max among others.” “First OPD fee is Rs 299 and the OPD fee offered through the platform is considered 65% lesser than other nominal fees,” he informed.    

“Teleconsultations have risen almost 10 times since November 2021. The online doctor consultation market is expected to be over 800 million USD by FY2024 growing at 72 per cent CAGR,” according to Vikram Thaploo, CEO , Apollo Telehealth Services. 

Today, ATH has emerged as India’s single largest turnkey provider in the area of telemedicine with 800+ public health centres, 100+ franchised teleclinics and point of presence through 350,000 common service centres, and rapidly expanding to other geographies. Also, ATH is already working with the government of Andhra Pradesh for operating 195 UPHCs in the state. ATH has also expanded its service footprint by providing Tele-Ophthalmology services at 115 centres in collaboration with the government across the state.

Apollo’s Himachal Pradesh Tele Health Program is also providing the much-needed Emergency, Specialty and super-specialty consultation services to locations at about 14,000 feet above sea level in the Himalayan Mountain range. Government of Uttar Pradesh has also entrusted ATH for Tele-Radiology services in its 134 Community Health Centres (CHC) and Telemedicine services in 120 CHCs. Apollo TeleHealth has also set up Digital Dispensaries across 100 selected PHC of Jharkhand State with state-of-the-art equipment for vital signs monitoring, screening program, speciality teleconsultations and ICT devices with other hospital furniture for the said services.

 “Apollo TeleHealth will focus more on tier II and tier III towns for future expansions. The aim is to serve 100 million Indians in the next four years, with personalised health services, audio/video consults, digital therapeutics, condition management, and more. ATH has made major contributions into the country’s primary healthcare through Public Private Partnerships (PPP) and has touched more than 13 million lives with over 16.5 million tele-consultations delivered and 20,000 clinical transactions on a daily basis,” Vikram Thaploo informed.

Talking about his experience about the growth in tele-consultations in Tier 1 and Tier 2 cities, Dr Alexander Kuruvilla, Chief Health Strategy Officer at Practo, “In Tier 1 cities, the kind of specialties we catered to were Gynaecology and Obstetrics in both the Covid -19 waves for the safety of the mother and child besides others like dermatology and psychiatry. General Physicians (GPs) and pulmonologists were also sought after during the pandemic for immediate medical care and referrals. This was also the case with tier 2 cities. Recently when we started our secondary care surgical procedures, patients from Tier 2 cities also reached out to us.”

He further added, “We started catering to Tier 2 cities in October 2021 and today we are catering to both Tier 1 and Tier 2 cities and intend to reach out to more than 70 to 80 cities in the coming months going forward from the current 10 to 15 cities. We today have presence in cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Pune, Chennai, Bangalore and Kolkata. We have already reached out to cities like Ahmedabad, Ludhiana, Chandigarh, Bhuvaneshwar and are exploring other Tier 2 cities. In order to cater to Tier 2 cities, we have now also gone vernacular.”

“Now, the patient can choose a doctor for the language he knows. We are slowly seeing a huge change and patients are comfortable with this approach which is why we onboard doctors who are fluent in vernacular languages to be able to cater to patients in remote areas,” he added.

Practo, an integrated healthcare company, connects the entire health ecosystem together – including patients, doctors, clinics, hospitals, pharmacies, diagnostics, and other partners – to generate exceptional value and service for all, especially the end consumers.

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