Telemedicine is Transforming Healthcare Delivery in India

Remote health monitoring, based on non-invasive and wearable sensors, actuators and modern communication and information technologies offers an efficient and cost-effective solution that allows the elderly to continue to live in their comfortable home environment instead of expensive healthcare facilities.

These systems will also allow healthcare personnel to monitor important physiological signs of their patients in real time, assess health conditions and provide feedback from distant facilities. 

With the expansion of broadband infrastructures and advancements in  communication systems, technology has become a ubiquitous part of our everyday life, including in the way healthcare is delivered and received. Telehealth is a component of the advancing technological landscape that is rapidly gaining traction. The World Health Organization describes telehealth as the utilization of information and communication technology to overcome geographical barriers between healthcare providers and patients. Telehealth leverages technological tools to serve multidisciplinary purposes:

● Enabling the diagnosis and treatment of diseases and injuries
● Health-related research and evaluation
● Educating healthcare professionals

Although sometimes used interchangeably with telehealth, telemedicine is a branch of the broader telehealth concept that focuses on the remote diagnosis and treatment of patients by healthcare professionals. The relationship between the patient and healthcare provider is evolving, and as an article in the Harvard Business Review aptly put it, “In a few years, the idea of receiving medical treatment exclusively at a doctor’s office or hospital will seem quaint.” Telemedicine offers healthcare providers the convenience of real-time assessment of a patient’s condition from distant facilities, and this has become more important given the current challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Telemedicine can serve a variety of purposes for both the patient and the healthcare provider, some of which are listed below:

● Access to specialist care – This could involve patients interacting with specialist clinicians live over video conference, or electronic transmission of diagnostic images and patient data to a specialist for later assessment Telemedicine would help mitigate the problem of lack of specialized clinicians in rural areas. Telemedicine would also provide convenient care to urban Indians who are pressed for time.

● Direct patient care – This entails the bidirectional sharing of audio, video, and medical data and resources between the patient and healthcare provider. This electronic transmission of data and resources further aids in diagnosis, coming up with a treatment plan, and prescription decisions. This two-way sharing system empowers the patients and gives them more control in the management of their condition.

● Remote patient monitoring – This involves the remote transmission of patient data electronically from technologically-enabled devices to a healthcare provider for interpretation. Devices and mobile-based applications can be used to capture and record health indicators like blood pressure, ECG, weight, and blood glucose levels. Remote patient monitoring provides healthcare providers real-time insights into their patients’ disease progress and treatment impacts.

Telemedicine has a strong market potential. A PwC report estimated its growth to be at a compound annual rate of 14% in the coming years. With many more Indians now having internet access and the plummeting data costs, healthcare providers should consider embracing technology-driven tools to overcome geographical barriers and improve patient outcomes. The COVID-19 pandemic has already made several countries turn to telemedicine solutions to replace in-person consultations, but this uptake has been slower in low- and middle-income countries. Telemedicine will be the new normal in the post-COVID-19 era as well. As a healthcare provider, it would be helpful to consider the following while transitioning to a more technologically-focused healthcare delivery model:

● Different tech-driven tools will be required for managing different diseases. Telemedicine’s current focus is primarily on cardiovascular diseases, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases, and diabetes – all of which require distinct tools from both the patient’s and healthcare provider’s ends. If a healthcare provider’s patients are mostly those with chronic diseases, telemedicine would be a viable mode of health service delivery.

● Latest tech-driven tools are user-friendly and interactive. Hence, they would be appealing even to the most technophobic patients. These tools will also not alienate older patients and will enable a seamless transition into a tech-focused treatment plan.

● It is also important to consider the feasibility of transitioning to tech-driven tools for healthcare delivery. Telemedicine is a cost-effective solution to issues commonly encountered by healthcare providers like missed appointments and cancellation, high patient loads, and low patient follow-up rates. It can also increase revenues and improve patient outcomes in the long run.

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#1. Which of the following is NOT a benefit of adopting telemedicine?