Explained: Are medical consultations via digital means likely to stay post COVID-19 pandemic as well?

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October 23, 2020 4:42 PM

With the outbreak of Coronavirus in India, the healthcare sector witnessed many changes and one of the major disruptions is increase in demand for telemedicine.

industry 4.0, pandemic, digitisation, digitalisation, revampingAs the pandemic has progressed, there has been a renewed look at digital initiatives across the value chain and a re-prioritisation to succeed in what is now called as the next normal.

With the outbreak of Coronavirus in India, the healthcare sector witnessed many changes and one of the major disruptions is increase in demand for telemedicine. With the risk of Coronavirus transmission especially at the healthcare facilities, many have opted for taking consultations via digital means. While the concept of telemedicine has long been introduced, it actually took a pandemic to shift the focus from physical consultations to the virtual ones. To be sure, telemedicine or telehealth is providing healthcare consultation services through digital/ virtual means. Niti Aayog in its report ‘Telemedicine: A Blessing In Disguise In Time Of COVID-19’ has noted that all healthcare professionals, who are primarily standing in the frontline in the fight against the viral infection are at the highest risk of infection. Therefore, adopting telemedicine will help reduce the risk of personal interactions, thus minimizing the transmission.

Growth during pandemic

Many players in the telemedicine field have seen a drastic change in the last six months. With a push from the central government, growth is seen in the sector. “Month-on-month growth has doubled leading to expansion in our panel of doctors and practitioners from different segments. We are aiming to grow steadily for the next 18 months,” said Anmol Arora, CEO, DocVita. What’s interesting is that the increase in virtual consultations have been coming from millennials. People in the age group of 20-30 years have been more keen in taking online consultations.

According to Tattvan E-clinics, around 53.2 per cent of the overall virtual consultations were made by females of all age-groups. “The overall growth in digital healthcare and telemedicine has seen a significant spike during the last four months . The verticals have reported an overall growth of 35- 70 per cent,” Ayush Mishra, CEO of Tattvan E-clinics said.

It is to note that among many verticals of healthcare, the industry players saw an increase in demand for consultations in dermatology, gynaecology and ENT.

Benefits of telemedicine

One of the biggest advantages that telemedicine provides is diagnosing and consulting patients in a remote location. “Remote clinical services can be a vital tool that supports in-person medical treatment. It helps in removing the barriers of location, commute, and physical effort,” said Arora.

Apart from this, the telemedicine is aimed at bringing many advantages for patients like saving their time, cost and energy lost in transport and prevents exposure to other potentially contagious patients. It offers the advantages of synchronised data, time and location independence; it makes treatment for patients more affordable and prevents self-medication.

According to Dr Harshit Jain, Founder and CEO of Doceree, the benefits are manifold, especially around times like now when we are fighting a battle with COVID-19. “Ever since the pandemic broke out, it has become apparent that opting for telemedicine can be the safest option to consult doctors, especially where there are situations of outbreaks and other infectious diseases. Even when times are normal, telemedicine can eliminate any physical interaction requirement apart from emergency cases where the physical presence of doctor is needed,” said Jain.

Future growth in telemedicine

Industry players are of belief that the industry is bound to grow even after the Coronavirus transmission is controlled. Notably, people were not confident in using virtual means for healthcare, however, the pandemic has made them realise that this mode can also be adopted. Ayush Mishra on the future course of telemedicine in India said that going forward, the investments from the private sectors are likely to increase in the field of telemedicine. With the help of it, the industry may become a multi-billion one in the next 3-5 years.

However, Harshit Jain believes that it will be very optimistic to say telemedicine will keep booming once the COVID-19 situation normalizes. Jain further added that a decline will be there in the growth trend, but the number of consultations will still be higher than what it was during pre-COVID levels.

Challenges for telemedicine in India

While the area is likely to grow a bit more, there are many challenges in the field of telemedicine that still need to be addressed. One of them is digital payments. Making payments for consultations digitally is a problem as the customer may not have the means to pay online. This problem is quite common in Tier II or Tier III cities. Apart from this, there is still a lack of awareness among many customers. Most people did not even know services like these existed till lockdown started.

One of the most common problems that can arise with anything digital is connectivity and bandwidth issues. At times, customers despite having the requisite technical capability and internet connectivity to consult a doctor on video, there may be bandwidth issues that severely affect the patient and provider experience.

Lastly, many are still worried that the quality of care online on video may not be the same as in-person and it may impact their health outcomes.

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