As more governments integrate the service—Himachal Pradesh was latest to do so, on April 21—one can expect traffic to increase.
The government launching the eSanjeevani app within a week of allowing telemedicine in the country, to digitally connect patients with government doctors is indeed laudable. Although the app has only registered 260 consultations for over 15 hours since its launch, it can be expected to pick up steam in these times of lockdowns and social distancing. As more governments integrate the service—Himachal Pradesh was latest to do so, on April 21—one can expect traffic to increase. But, the real test for the government will be in expanding the network across rural areas and tier-II towns, where availability of doctors is low.
While the government is learnt to be planning to expand the scope of the app—in certain areas, district administrations are trying to integrate medicine shops as well—it needs to work towards getting Primary Healthcare Centres (PHCs) online. As against the WHO mandated one doctor for 1,000 population, India has only 0.62 doctors per thousand. In rural areas, this ratio worsens, as there is only one functioning PHC for every 64,800 people, and one PHC doctor for every 38,000 people.
Once the infrastructure is available in rural areas, it would help people with no smartphones to avail of teleconsultation facilities. The state governments will also need to promote such initiatives—not just eSanjeevani, but others too—if the service is to improve. Only Karnataka and a few other states have been welcoming of startups working in the field of telemedicine or teleradiology. This is the Indian healthcare sector’s UPI moment; how well the government fares in this field shall depend on how much support it can provide to upcoming startups to build on the health stack it is creating.