By Ravideep Singh
The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic last year questioned healthcare infrastructure across the globe. While the rest of the world has adapted to the ‘new normal, India’s healthcare facilities struggle to cope with the unsparing second wave. WHO recommends a doctor to population ratio of 1:1000, while in India, this ratio remains as low as 0.67:1000. Merely one per cent of the country’s GDP is allocated to healthcare.
Before the outbreak of the virus, the Indian healthcare system was barely managing to make ends meet. The Covid-19 pandemic further amputated an already fragile system, making it crumble to pieces. However, in the last few months, the system has undergone a significant paradigm shift. One such shift is the implementation and adoption of telehealth.
Since October 2020, the Indian telehealth industry has witnessed a massive boost. Tele-consultations, e-pharmacies and remote monitoring is gaining trust and popularity amongst both patients and healthcare professionals. With the growing acceptance of telehealth, in March 2020, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW), together with NITI Aayog and the Board of Governors (BoG) Medical Council of India (MCI), has released the first set of formal guidelines to regulate practices across the nation. 75 per cent of India’s doctors are based in cities and urban areas, while over 68 per cent of the Indian population resides in rural areas. It is believed that telehealth is the only plausible medium to bridge the gap between the urban and rural populations’ access to quality healthcare.
The goal of telehealth is to strategically streamline and re-program the Indian healthcare industry by leveraging technology for infrastructural and logistical deficiencies to render high-quality care across social, economic, and geographical zones. Today, telehealth is breaking barriers of patient inhibitions and discomfort by embracing technology for medical aid and assistance. Telehealth intends to make healthcare more equitable and accessible to the commoners while streamlining quality healthcare delivery for the future — anticipated to be low on physical infrastructure and heavily reliant on technology. Telehealth could also reduce medical waste, thus allowing hospitals and healthcare facilities to thrive as sustainable models of care. It is expected that telehealth will be a catalyst in promoting digital equity in India while rendering enhanced reach across rural areas.
With these goals, the future of telehealth looks promising. To successfully enable and implement accessible and user-friendly telehealth practices, healthcare providers and designers need to work in tandem to facilitate infrastructure and technological integration. During the design phase of medical infrastructure, scenario and strategic planning is the key. With improving technologies and growing demand for quality healthcare consultations, digital interventions in medical care are inevitable.
However, careful planning and mitigating the transition to ensure coherency is critical. Tele-health in India is still in the pilot stage. While there have been changes in the way we approach healthcare and medical aid, the shift will not happen overnight. We need to address the gaps in technology and infrastructure before hospitals can rely on telehealth and e-consultations for patients. Telehealth cannot replace traditional medical consultations, procedures, and emergency hospital visits immediately, but it promises to reduce the burden on our frail healthcare systems, especially during rough times like these. We still have a long way to go till it evolves, adapts, and disseminates across the dynamicity and diversity of the Indian population and market.
(Ravideep Singh is associate director, CDA Architects. The views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of the Financial Express Online.)