How Tele-Healthcare is Proving to be a Blessing in Disguise in Time of COVID-19
India is the fastest country in the world to administer 100 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine, but the cruel pandemic has posed formidable challenges, given the country’s huge population, most of whom live in rural areas. But, in these challenging times, telemedicine is proving to be a big opportunity in Indian healthcare.
The advances in virtual visits and remote patient monitoring have improved access to quality care by removing traditional barriers such as mobility, distance, consumption of time and effort.
With social distancing emerging to be one of the primary measures taken by nations to combat the COVID-19 pandemic,
World Health Organization (WHO) has also recognised telemedicine as an essential step in strengthening Health System Response to COVID-19.
WHO has also recommended, telemedicine as one of the alternative models to boost clinical performance and support decisions in the context of optimising service delivery.
In India, there are a lot of imbalances and bottlenecks in terms of healthcare infrastructure, which include uneven quality and access to health services. Healthcare professionals who are in the frontline response to the COVID-19 pandemic are at the highest risk of infection. Hence, adopting telemedicine is helping minimise this risk by reducing the number of personal interactions.
A report by Niti Ayog says that Telemedicine offers the possibility of increasing the supply of doctors and help overcome geographic restrictions, and hence the efficiency of healthcare systems can be maximised by utilizing the potential of the quarantined doctors for virtual care. And this has been seen , with telemedicine gaining momentum in the country and being accepted by doctors, paramedics, and consumers.
Almost all telemedicine providers have experienced a demand tsunami that can best be described as a global pilot in a real-time situation. Some of the COVID-19 telemedicine patient use cases include self-isolated/quarantined patients at remote locations (self-monitoring and remote monitoring), patients with mild cases (remote monitoring and treatment), post-discharge patients (for follow-ups).
Health workers, paramedics, and doctors with mild symptoms can continue to work with patients, retired clinicians, give second opinion for severe cases, cross-border experience sharing, teleradiology, and online training for health workers remotely.
Telemedicine can be also be used as an instrument to support the mental health of patients and health workers.
The COVID-19 pandemic is a challenging test for all the present solutions to prove their reliability, scalability, and agility under the new circumstances. The ability to repopulate, update, and upgrade the database of patients, paramedics, and patients as soon as possible is also one of the major challenges.
There is no question tagging COVID-19 as an overwhelming burden to our healthcare systems. “We have reached a point where supply will no longer match existing demand,” says Dr. Naveen Moorthy. However, he stressed that not all regions of the country would be affected equally at the same time.
“One of the beauties of telemedicine is that we can use it to balance the supply and demand. We can virtually deploy doctors even on the remotest corner of the country and, at the same time, surveil and treat the patients at their home,” says Dr. Moorthy.
Tele-medicine is now an most important feature of the ever rising mobile healthcare (m-healthcare) consultations. The future of the m-health market looks bright and full of opportunities.
According to Fortune Business Insights (2019-2026), the global m-health market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 29.1% from USD 34.28 billion in 2018 to USD 293.29 billion by the end of 2026.
M-health is a broad sector comprising of connected medical devices, mobile services and apps. While connected medical devices and apps are enabling patients suffering from chronic diseases to self-monitor, services are receiving a positive response in the areas of personalised patient engagement, remote diagnosis and remote monitoring.
With the help of m-health technologies, an increasing number of people are now unlocking their potential to radically improve healthcare services even in the most resource-poor and remote environments. Though m-health is yet to reach an advanced stage, it is already on the path of revolutionising the healthcare system. This is because of some key benefits that it delivers – increased access and affordability of healthcare services, track and treat diseases, improved ability to diagnose and actionable public health information.
As Karan Chopra, Founder of Hospido and co-founder of Doc on Call, says, with more and more health-tech companies tapping the advantages of m-health by introducing I-T enabled devices and providing remote patient care through telemedicine and imparting education to patients about chronic diseases, the m-health industry will grow at unprecedented levels and transform the traditional healthcare delivery system.
It can be said that what began as a rescue from coronavirus, tele-health tools, are all set to eliminate the healthcare challenges facing the country for decades, Chopra says.
The ultimate goal of telemedicine is to bring continuous care to patients without any delay or interruptions. One of the most important benefits of tele-health is its ability to lend health care in remote locations. Moreover, according to WHO, between 2000 and 2050, the number of people aged 60 years or older would likely increase from 605 million to 2 billion. The rapidly increasing elderly population have become significant beneficiaries of tele-health.
Chopra, therefore argues, that with a strategic approach; governments, NGOs and businesses can contribute tremendously to improve health outcomes on a massive scale. “With many m-health projects being executed and industry leaders rapidly driving innovations, one thing is sure that the sector will serve an ever wider range of constituents in the years ahead. The next evolutionary stage in healthtech is to expand the scale and scope of operations”, he says.
Of course, given the increasing wave of cyber-attacks, data security in the telemedicine sector needs to be ensured on priority. Some countries, including the United States, have announced new telemedicine regulations. Other countries will make their decision in the coming weeks to include telemedicine as a Standard Operating procedure (SOP) for the prevention and treatment of COVID-19.
Therefore, one will continue to see more examples of the use and integration of telemedicine solutions with other technologies.