Doctor on call: Telemedicine in demand in times of coronavirus pandemic

Published: April 9, 2020 3:15:20 AM

At a time when all healthcare resources have been consumed in addressing the coronavirus threat, a large number of patients with other health conditions, be it chronic diseases or acute conditions requiring medical help are at loss.

The demand for telemedicine has already surged globally as most healthcare providers open the video consultation route to treatment.The demand for telemedicine has already surged globally as most healthcare providers open the video consultation route to treatment.

By Vikram Thaploo

With healthcare systems across the world overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the Covid-19 pandemic, conventional healthcare is finding it hard to address the crisis. Shortage of doctors, hospital beds, ventilators and protective equipment has crippled the healthcare response to perhaps the most serious global disease outbreak to hit the world after the Spanish flu of 1918. Even countries like the UK, US, Italy and Spain known for robust healthcare infrastructures are finding it hard to grapple with the disease. In India, where healthcare systems are already overburdened, a large outbreak threatens to spell a disaster like no other. It is important therefore to act timely to leverage the use of alternative processes like telehealth and turn them from stop-gap arrangements to mainstream interventions.

The demand for telemedicine has already surged globally as most healthcare providers open the video consultation route to treatment. In India, the government acted timely to issue for the first time guidelines for healthcare practitioners giving consultations through telemedicine. This has boosted the sphere by giving it statutory protection and removing ambiguities and lack of clarity on the issue. At Apollo Healthcare, we have witnessed a 100% jump in demand for tele-consultation over the past month. The Covid-19 pandemic will go down in history as a turning point in the journey of telemedicine, given the fact that it is the first time that the use of telemedicine is being co-opted on a large scale to address a public health crisis. Telehealth will act as a major cog in the wheel of effective coronavirus management and containment.

Treating the home quarantined
With scarce resources making it impossible to test and treat all patients in the hospital settings, finding alternative ways to isolate and monitor a large number of patients is required. Across the world, most infected people with mild to moderate symptoms have been asked to self-quarantine themselves at home while hospitals are taking in only the seriously ill patients needing artificial respiratory support. This is where India needs to leverage telehealth services in a major way in monitoring and advising such people.

The governments in partnership with private players must actively encourage people to seek consultations through the tele-health services. Taking the telemedicine route will help in filtering and short listing the most serious patients who need hospitalization. Doctors can check the symptoms in patients through tele-conferencing, advice them about medication, precautions as well as tests required and refer them to a healthcare facility in case their symptoms aggravate. Arrangements must also be made for pathologists to be able to collect samples from home.

Addressing other health issues remotely
At a time when all healthcare resources have been consumed in addressing the coronavirus threat, a large number of patients with other health conditions, be it chronic diseases or acute conditions requiring medical help are at loss. It is important therefore that telehealth facilities are used effectively to ensure continuum of care to people with existing illnesses. This will also mitigate their risk of contracting the dreaded infection while travelling to clinics and hospitals. Telemedicine providers and hospitals must make specialists in different domains available to patients through telemedicine services. This will ensure that patients with other health conditions requiring medical support are not ignored.

The writer is CEO, Apollo Tele Health

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