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Telemedicine: Moving From Niche to New Normal


In the wake of the pandemic, the healthcare sector flexibly adapted innovation and technology-driven medical assistance amidst the pandemic after being resistant to change for the longest time. A McKinsey study noted that the pandemic caused a significant acceleration in telehealth use, with U.S. customer use rising from 11% in 2019 to 46% as of May 2020 instead of face-to-face healthcare visits. There is no doubt that telehealth is now the new normal, and it is here to stay. Although being confined to homes due to the viral strain hasn’t been a blessing, but if you look at the positives, it has converted virtual treatment once considered merely as a novel way of linking doctors with patients.

The pandemic provided a realization globally that an ardent need to add on to the workforce to make ends meet. Although doctors and nurses were busy fighting the pandemic, there was a need to also cater to other therapy areas and not leave them unattended. That’s when the Covid-19 pandemic paved the foundation for telehealth solutions and is on the crossover of a paradigm transition.

The pandemic’s beginning urged the need to treat non-emergency physical and mental conditions with virtual office visits. The CDC, in their case study published in October, stated that “During the first quarter of 2020, the number of telehealth visits increased by 50%, compared with the same period in 2019, with a 154% increase in visits noted in surveillance week 13 in 2020, compared with the same period in 2019.”

In India, telemedicine practice guidelines are provided by the country’s medical council, allowing registered medical professionals to use telemedicine to provide healthcare services.

Doctors can write e-prescriptions with these guidelines, exchange consultations via chat, email, fax, and video call. Although guidelines about telehealth, which were released in the pandemic’s immediate effect, are yet to stabilize. A coping strategy during the pandemic has been the adoption of telemedicine. But as we step past the virus, we need to ensure that treatment gets to the people who desperately need it and continue to digitize our healthcare systems.

Advances in consumer healthcare technology, along with the broader digitization of healthcare infrastructure through telehealth platforms, will embark on the next step in delivering healthcare services in India and around the world. It is essential for healthcare and technology providers to understand the significant role of demographics, geography, and specialties in virtual treatment design.

For millennials and seniors, rural and urban inner-city communities, and demographic groups with radically different health care requirements. Physical and digital infrastructure investments, including data privacy and security cybersecurity protection, would help bridge the urban-rural divide and ensure that everyone has access to affordable healthcare.

It was adapting to technology that showcased telemedicine’s potential to be so much more than a virtual exam space. It exhibited the power to knock down the time and distance barriers that stand in the way of optimal treatment. Telemedicine also presented the possibility of a significant reduction in healthcare costs and provided individuals worldwide an opportunity to connect with top-notch medical expertise. This not only emerged as a second-rate replacement for the conventional medical office visit but also a way for the treatment preference to be significantly changed.

With a considerable change from ‘face-to-face’ appointments to ‘FaceTime-to-FaceTime’ consultations, the emergence of telehealth is a result of the pandemic. It has been a very apparent example in the past year. But it is important to remember that digital transformation is underway on a much larger scale, with substantial changes beyond telehealth that will soon revolutionize the organization, service, and distribution of healthcare.

Technology is driving efficiencies both in and out of hospitals for accepting and treating patients and managing the connection between hospitals, clinics, and other health service areas. This ensures greater expediency and certainty. We now see signs of a parallel wider digital wave sweeping through the broader healthcare industry, from hospitals and clinics to general practices and even nursing homes, as healthcare practitioners and patients are becoming more familiar with telehealth procedures and more accustomed to the ease of online consultations.

Telehealth is an industry overflowing with hope. It can theoretically, as a start, carry medical care to individuals who may not otherwise have access to it. As telemedicine becomes more widely used, healthcare programs and insurance firms administered by the government will be more willing to cover such care. Telehealth services and remote patient monitoring insurance coverage will be of interest to governments seeking to reduce healthcare costs and ensure that their populations receive care even in global healthcare situations.

India ranks among the world’s top 10 countries in the telemedicine market. It has seen significant growth in the telemedicine sector over the years, but growth has not been rapid due to the lack of adequate guidelines and regulations. In the coming years, a high level of private sector investment in the field of telemedicine can foresee a bright future and in the next 3-5 years. Telemedicine service apps such as Practo, DocPrime, mFine, CallHealth, and Lybrate play a significant role in enhancing healthcare access among the rural class.

We are still in the very early stages of shifting to a new care delivery model that emphasizes virtual over in-person visits. Telehealth is not a brand new concept, as it has been said before. Estonia, the most advanced digital nation globally, made people’s lives simple by paving the way for countless new high-tech solutions, with physical, mental, and social well-being being the utmost priority. Viveo Health is democratizing healthcare, making it accessible to 1 billion people by 2025.

However, during the COVID-19 pandemic, its uptake was altered. The sudden shift to this concept has defined a change in healthcare delivery and prompted this to be a practical and relevant solution that can meet patients’ needs. Let’s embrace this with open hands to make this service sustainable and work together with the stakeholders and regulatory bodies for a win-win situation.

(The author is Raul Kallo, CEO & Founder at Viveo Health and the views expressed in this article are his own)

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