The total national healthcare spending increased to $3.5 trillion from 2017 to 2020. From this year especially, the entire world has acknowledged the importance of a good National Healthcare System in place. Just like technology has impacted the growing impact on every facet of living today, healthcare is just a piece of this cake. It is not a recently derived way to provide medical advice. Innovators have been trying their hand on Telemedicine for a long time, as long as since the 1900s.
In 1924, the radio was prominently used for media purposes from information to entertainment. Keeping in mind the extensive use, a show called ‘The Radio Doctor-Maybe’ was aired on the ‘Radio News Magazine’ where a doctor gave consultation to the patient through a video call. Telemedicine not only provides greater convenience to both patient and the doctor but also is affordable to many others. As an example of the first electronic transfer of medical records, some doctors from Pennsylvania used telephone lines to transmit radiology images over 24 miles! Overall the sector has been developing since then with medical engineering. Telemedicine has helped to reduce the Paperwork and the records are much safer and organized than ever.
Telemedicine is health consultations by care professionals to evaluate, to diagnose and treat patients at a distance using telecommunications technology. Through this, Physicians can obtain information in real-time about their patients using devices such as heart rate monitors, smart glasses and fitness bands on the wrist thus patients can consult a physician at the comfort of their home through Telemedicine. Usually, the concepts of telemedicine and telehealth are used interchangeably but there is some difference.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), telehealth includes, “Surveillance, health promotion and public health functions.” On the other hand, Telemedicine is more focused on remote medical help provided via secure video and audio connections, including follow-up visits, management of chronic conditions, medication management, specialist consultation and a many other clinical services.
Not denying the increasing adaptability of Telemedicine and how it has assisted the needs of many around the world, but there are few drawbacks as well. First, lack of infrastructure in many rural places, be it about data networks and mobile phones, might not help the patients requiring critical services. Second, the medical misdiagnosis done under telemedicine due to lack of certification of the consultation providers or accuracy might risk the health of the patients.
Telemedicine in India
With the purview of India’s population, the equitable distribution of healthcare services has proven to be a major goal in public health management time and again. WHO recommends a doctor-population ratio of 1:1000 while the doctor population ratio in India as per 2019, is only 0.62:1000. This deficit is partly being supported by the active telemedicine services across the country.
In terms of collecting the available public health data and providing easy access, the Ministry of Health in the Government of India has taken up initiatives like Integrated Disease Surveillance Project, National Cancer Network, National Rural Telemedicine Network, National Medical College Network and the Digital Medical Library Network. Legal standards for telemedicine are also set by the Department of Information Technology in the Government of India. Telemedicine services in the country come under the jurisdiction of both the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and the Department of Information Technology.
National Digital Health Authority of India (NDHAI) is being set up as an e-health wing of the National Health Portal (NHP). Not only modern but telemedicine practices in India are also extended to the fields of traditional medicines. The National Rural AYUSH Telemedicine Network has been set up, which aims to promote the use of traditional medicines for healing purposes. For the rural areas, ISRO has developed the Village Resource Center to provide services like tele-education, telemedicine, interactive farmers’ advisory services, tele-fishery, e-governance services, weather services and water management. The VRC’s provide connectivity to speciality hospitals and thus cater to patients in rural areas.
There are various companies in India, including start-ups that provide telemedicine. These companies are focusing on educating the people about health & other services and on improving public health and sanitation via telecommunications technologies. Some private companies providing Telemedicine services in India include Practo, 1mg, Lybrate, Medlife etc.
Telemedicine during Covid-19
During this pandemic, telehealth and telemedicine are emerging as an effective and sustainable solution for precaution, prevention and treatment to reduce the spread of the virus. Telehealth is bridging the gap between people, physicians and health systems especially symptomatic patients, to communicate with physicians through virtual channels while at home. Telemedicine is under the spotlight now by helping healthcare providers and caregivers to better the response to the needs of those who have contracted the virus and also those who need to adjudge the status of their health. A report published by Mckinsey & Co stated that covid-19 have seen massive acceleration consumer adoption of telehealth from 11% of U.S. consumers using telehealth in 2019 to 46% of consumers using telehealth in 2020. So for the healthcare organizations that did not have telemedicine operating before the outbreak are adding additional services at this now. Thus telemedicine has proved to be a successful contribution during the pandemic and hopes to be growing even higher in the future.