Telehealth services emerge as a viable alternative to face-to-face medical consultations when social distancing is the new norm.
If you are a city dweller and have ever used any hospital or clinic’s patient portal, then you may have some idea about telehealth. Used not only to book appointments or for any follow-up medications, it encompasses a broad range of electronic delivery systems: virtual check-ins, e-visits that is non-face-to-face communication through patient portals, mobile health apps, secure messaging through text or email or WhatsApp. Anyone with a mobile phone or laptop can access telehealth services.
During the current Covid-19 crisis, telemedicine has turned out to be a life saver literally. With regular healthcare services inaacessible, demand for telemedicine services has gone up. In response to this, the health ministry has notified an amendment to the Medical Council of India (MCI) Act by instituting the telemedicine practice guidelines. Telemedicine Society of India (TSI) has been requested to train 500,000 doctors within a month.
The Apollo Hospitals Group has announced its support to the MCI and TSI to sensitise and train doctors around the country in deploying telehealth services on a wide scale. Doctors are being asked to join this initiative by attending the training module. Over 2,500 doctors across the Apollo Hospitals Group will be participating in the online telehealth orientation programme, for empowering healthcare practitioners to effectively deliver remote healthcare.
“As early as 1998, we decided to introduce telemedicine and on March 24, 2000, the world’s first V-SAT enabled village hospital at my birthplace Aragonda in Andhra Pradesh was commissioned by the then US President, Bill Clinton,” says Prathap C Reddy, chairman, Apollo Hospitals Group.
Over the last two decades, the Apollo Telehealth division has offered over 10,000 tele-consults per day and is running the world’s largest tele-emergency services.
“Most of our doctors use telemedicine with excellent clinical outcomes. With the country in a lockdown to enforce social distancing, many patients are unable to visit doctors and hospitals for their consultations and follow-ups. Telemedicine permitting virtual consultations will be of immense benefit in these cases,” says Sangita Reddy, joint MD, Apollo Hospitals Group.
Apollo TeleHealth provides healthcare services through PPPs with several state governments. It runs a strong and robust network of telehealth enabled primary health centres in Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Jharkhand and tele-emergency centres in Himachal Pradesh.
While telemedicine is an upcoming field in the healthcare sector, it is still at a nascent stage in India. Given that a significant portion of our population resides in rural areas and healthcare facilities are predominantly available in urban areas, telemedicine has immense potential to bridge this gap, says Kiran Kalakuntala, CEO and founder, ekincare. ekincare’s AI-powered health assistant reads medical data from disparate data sets to create a health graph, predicts health risks, and provides timely personalised recommendations to beat employee health risks.
According to Kalakuntala, a regulatory framework covering health data, service providers and online tools is needed to streamline the entire ecosystem. Without a standardisation framework in place, it will always need human intervention to interpret reports and documents. “We can envision a system similar to Aadhaar and credit score in the health space as well, where every service and benefit can be managed through a single platform,” he says.
Similarly, Tattvan, a telemedicine healthcare e-clinic, has introduced ‘Swastha Samarth’ initiative for empowering medical practitioners and professionals to continue with patientcare and consultation. Patients can connect with doctors via Tattvan’s application available on Android and IoS or online through the company’s portal. “Patients will be able to pay for their OPD fees online on our platform and we will pass that complete fees directly to the doctor,’’ says Ayush Mishra, founder and CEO, Tattvan.
“Due to lack of proper regulation, most of the work under telemedicine was happening under government affiliation. Private sector was wary to invest in it due to the lack of regulations in this field which eventually hindered growth and innovation. However, the regulations and government ruling has brought a significant change in the perspective of private companies, investors and users hesitating far less while opting for a tele-consultation,” Mishra says.