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Can Telemedicine Transform Indian Healthcare Delivery?

In his book, Crossing the Chasm, Geoffrey Moore highlights how disruptive innovations could be adopted by exploring the realities of high-tech marketing, with particular focus on the internet. The ‘chasm’ in the title is a reference to the gap between use by a few idealists, and adoption by some realists.

The Covid-19 pandemic has been instrumental in helping telemedicine span this conceptual chasm. For the longest time, telehealth advocates were seeking to convince the world about the advantages of this new technology, but unable to speed up adoption. Covid-19 changed the scenario almost overnight by putting the spotlight on online services of all types.  

Today, we are rediscovering the wonders of telemedicine in the backdrop of global lockdowns and social distancing norms. From video visits and AI-enabled delivery of alarms and prompts, to remotely monitoring patients in hospitals and homes, telehealth has witnessed a huge surge in adoption that could be the turning point in health services.    

Telehealth in India

The first telemedicine system was designed by Apollo Hospitals in collaboration with ISRO for the village Aragonda in Andhra Pradesh. 

Subsequently, respective state governments supported by central ministries and ISRO began to put in place a telemedicine network to cover the entire country. In this scheme of things, leading teaching institutes such as AIIMS, New Delhi, PGIMER, Chandigarh and SGPGIMS, Lucknow were to work as the central hubs. 

At the same time, numerous private medical institutions have also launched telehealth centres to help them expand their services. 

Where We Stand 

In the USA, at least 15% of medical professionals are employed in practices that use telehealth. Private insurers have increased their adoption of telemedicine by 50% every year for most of the decade. Similarly, the UK’s NHS Long-Term Plan has stated "digitally enabled care is likely to go mainstream".

As far as India is concerned, a PWC report estimates digital connectivity growing from 15% in 2014 to 80% by 2034. This is encouraging from a telehealth perspective as more parts of the country could potentially benefit from access to the technology.  

As telehealth reaches the far corners of the country, we are likely to see a shift away from brick-and-mortar institutions to online medicine. There could also be the synthesis of telehealth with in-person care creating a hybrid model of healthcare delivery particularly suited to Indian conditions.    

Taking a Cue from the Pandemic 

Currently, telehealth is used to diagnose, treat and prevent diseases and injuries. Recent reviews reveal how telemedicine initiatives can result in the cost-effectiveness of healthcare delivery, thus making healthcare services accessible and affordable to all. An AIIMS survey found that patients who availed telemedicine facilities thought the technology saved time and money and was particularly useful for people in rural areas.

Doctors and health specialists can use the present time as a springboard to launch their own telehealth services. By opening your clinic on the web, you could manage your practice efficiently and ensure that you interact with each of your patients seamlessly and without hurdles. 

With hospital visits down to an all-time low for fear of catching the virus, many patients suffering from chronic illnesses and other diseases are relying on phone and video interactions to obtain quality medical advice. In this situation, a customised telemedicine platform can help health specialists and patients link up in an online assessment setting. 

The right telehealth system could help you to fix and schedule appointments, have a face-to-face personal interaction with your patient, generate prescriptions, store your patient records securely, and show payment collection and issue receipts of payment all in a single interface.

The Path Ahead

The Covid-19 crisis has provided a great momentum of telehealth adoption. To carry it forward, all stakeholders such as specialists, doctors, paramedical experts, technical professionals, policymakers, staff coordinators and most importantly, patients, would need to involve themselves from the design phase itself.   

By working as a conduit, telemedicine can carry knowledge across social, economic and geographic borders. Moreover, telemedicine for health interventions can potentially enable extending medical expertise to rural areas and enhance the quality, affordability and accessibility of healthcare services. 

Some issues, however, need to be revisited and contextualised with regards to how health is perceived in Indian society today. These include: 

  • The shifts in understanding health

  • The use of telematics in treating patients

  • Health choices of individuals

Barriers & Solutions 

For telemedicine to be optimally adapted and to enhance healthcare delivery, hurdles must be addressed across levels, from policies, infrastructure, societies and institutions. 

Several telemedicine initiatives in the country have mainly explored delivering specialist or expert advice from central junctions to boundaries, and then catering to secondary and tertiary care delivery. So, the approach so far has been top-down with regards to designing technology, processes and systems. 

But, for telemedicine to transform Indian healthcare delivery, its potential in primary care must be utilised in the right manner. Telemedicine for primary care requires a bottom-up approach, starting from the community level. This means assessing the needs of the people, examining the various sociotechnical systems where intervention can be implemented and involving local thought leaders. This approach could enhance the effectiveness and acceptance of telehealth further up in the secondary and tertiary levels.

Besides, how systems and processes are designed must be based on the requirement of the people, knowledge of awareness and feasibility of infrastructure.

Is Telehealth the Future?

The current pandemic has genuinely revealed the potential of telemedicine in a post-Covid-19 world to enhance healthcare delivery. By involving multiple stakeholders and dimensions, an effective telemedicine system will be able to incorporate various issues and ensure the greater participation of the target community. 

Telemedicine could soon be an integral part of the Indian healthcare system. Doctors and healthcare specialists should be ready to grab the opportunity when it comes.  

Interested in having your own telehealth platform? Book a free product demo or call 1860-123-1233 for help.