By Alisha Deshmukh(3rd Sem)
It is said that Healthcare is a right and not just a privilege. Constant advancements in healthcare since time immemorial has led to the emergence of Teleconsultation, which more of an American concept is also rising in Indian especially due to the 2020 COVID 19 Pandemic. In this article we will discuss the statistics regarding the adoption of teleconsultation pre and post COVID Pandemic and weigh the pros and cons to decide if Teleconsultation is the future or just a COVID fad.
The recent EHR data across the US shows that in mid-April 2020, telehealth visits comprised 69% of total visits (peak). Since then, levels have dropped to make up only 21% of total visits, though this is still higher than the rates seen before the pandemic (less than 0.01%).
The Covid-19 pandemic saw a rise in the use of telemedicine by US adult according to another Census survey.
In India too, there has been a rise followed by a decline in the adoption of teleconsultation with the rise and decline of the COVID Pandemic.
The results rose and declined with the pandemic and now rest at levels which are higher than that were before the pandemic.
That means the COVID 19 Pandemic gave a new age to the infancy of Teleconsultation which was meagrely used and was more of just an idea before the Pandemic, but now will prevail as an effective tool to advocate healthcare.
Advantages of Teleconsultation
1.Bridging the gap
- In India, healthcare centres are concentrated in the urban areas (75% of the total doctors) away from rural India where 68.84 % of national population lives.
- In many rural and remote places, Teleconsultation can be applied in place of the unavailable novel healthcare. This saves the patient’s travel cost too.
2.Reducing the burden
- India with a population of more than 120 crores and an already overburdened healthcare system due to the Pandemic has a doctor- patient ratio of 1:10.189 instead of the recommended 1:1000 by the WHO. Teleconsultation can effectively reduce the outpatient visits and reduce the burden on the system.
3.Patient’s convenience and safety
- Convenience of patients especially homebound/bedridden patients or those who find visiting the doctor’s chamber uncomfortable is taken care of.
- Telemedicine eliminates the possibility of transmitting infectious diseases among patients and healthcare professionals.
- Problem of spending hours for a simple routine check-up is prevented.
- Patients can book an appointment as per his convenience leading to more follow up visits which otherwise would have been ignored/ forgotten due to the travel expenses incurred by the patient.
- The patients can get 24-hour access to doctors’ consultation especially in emergency situations when visiting a doctor is impossible.
- Through Telemedicine, medical information and images can be kept confidential and safely transferred from one place to another.
Limitations of Teleconsultation
- The cost to develop the infrastructure to make teleconsultation possible is the biggest barrier.
- Teleconsultation requires the patient party to posses and use technology which most of the rural population is unfamiliar with. This destroys the whole point of teleconsultation expanding healthcare to the rural and inaccessible areas.
3.Lack of physical examination
- Examination and procedures requiring physical touch cannot be performed.
- Limited doctor- patient interaction increases the risk of error in diagnosis especially if done by untrained professionals.
4.Risk of privacy breach
- Confidential medical information can be leaked through faulty electronic system.
- This platform can be used by unauthorised healthcare service providers.
- Teleconsultations pave the way for selling prescription drugs unethically.
Pictorial representation of the barriers faced (a) globally, (b) by Regions of America and (c) by South- East Asian countries (including India) to implement teleconsultaion
Report on the second global survey on eHealth (WHO)
Can telecommunication fully replace Real time Medicine?
- Real time medicine enables ALL procedures and physical examinations (especially in psychiatric patients) leading to patient satisfaction and minimum risk of errors in providing the service.
- Emergency and invasive services can be performed which are not possible virtually.
These two points form the foundation of providing unflawed and ideal healthcare which cannot be achieved via teleconsultation and is the main reason why teleconsultation cannot fully replace real time medicine.
What is the need for Telecommunication? -to fill out the voids left by Real-time medicine.
- Incorporating teleconsultation along with real- time medicine will play a humongous role in reducing the burden on the healthcare system by reducing the number of patients coming with minor ailments or routine check-ups.
- Teleconsultation will pave the way to making the idea of ‘Healthcare for all’ a reality by reaching the inaccessible, uneducated and unaware populations of the country. However, this requires engagement of the authorities and depends on their level of interest to make technology and its awareness available to all.
Recommendations to make Teleconsultation Feasible
- Government should provide infrastructure to meet the cost for establishing Teleconsultation.
- Awareness should be created among the masses about the idea, use and benefits of Teleconsultation.
- Patients visiting for routine check-ups and minor ailments should be encouraged to adopt Teleconsultation by the physician.
- Authorities should provide infrastructure to provide technology far and wide (eg: internet) and the masses should be encouraged and educated to use the same.
- Physicians must be appropriately trained to provide immaculate virtual services so as to liberate the masses from myths and beliefs of receiving unsatisfactory healthcare virtually.
Teleconsultation in no way can fully replace Real- time medicine but is a boon if practiced along with Real- time medicine to fill the voids left by it to provide the best healthcare far and wide irrespective of cultural and geographical barriers. This can only become a reality if the Government takes necessary actions. Thus, it can be said that Teleconsultation- a COVID Fad is the future of tomorrow!
1) Report on the second global survey on eHealth (WHO) https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&rct=j&url=https://www.who.int/goe/publications/goe_telemedicine_2010.pdf&ved=2ahUKEwjG0ZaolIvxAhVOyjgGHTg3DjoQFjATegQIBhAC&usg=AOvVaw3GV0kDCPIjxZK4YNygBNnl