The literal meaning of the word ‘telemedicine’ is to ‘heal from distance’. As per World Health Organization, telemedicine is referred to as the concept of providing remote healthcare services to the population who are distantly located. The rise of Information and Technology services has been the crucial factor behind the rise of telemedicine in India.
For a population of over 130 crores, telemedicine is proving to be a revolutionary concept. Telemedicine in India has the ability to change the status quo of the healthcare system in the country. Read below to know more on the shifts in the healthcare trends that Telemedicine is bringing about in India and abroad!
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What is Telemedicine?
The term ‘telemedicine’ was coined back in the year 1970. However if you haven’t heard much about it, it is because its adoption has been slow. The concept has lately become popular after the global COVID-19 pandemic. With the world population socially distanced from each other, the internet and mobile devices came as lifesavers.
The use of the internet and communication technology widely became accepted for consultations, treatment, and diagnosis. This is precisely what telemedicine is all about. Telemedicine makes use of the information and technology for the real-time delivery of healthcare services.
There are a lot of telemedicine companies in India that are working for the cause of making healthcare services more accessible and convenient. Practo, 1mg, Medlife are some of the celebrated telemedicine apps in India. Very often, the words ‘telehealth’ and ‘telemedicine’ are confused with each other. However, there is a lot of difference between the two concepts.
Telehealth is a much larger concept of providing electronic services for the holistic range of healthcare services. It also covers non-clinical activities like long-distance professional education and training services. The services of telemedicine, on the other hand, are covered under telehealth, and it caters to the clinical needs of the patients only.
Types of Telemedicine Services
There are mainly three types of telemedicine services, each of which has special benefits. Making good use of them can provide real tangible benefits to ones availing these services at large.
1. Store and forward telemedicine services
Store and forward services are meeting the need for surpassing the need for the doctors to meet their patients in person. They reduce the burden of time by finding the patient information through medical signals and scanning images. This service is commonly used in the specialized fields of pathology, radiology, and others.
Privacy and security of the information are some of the strong concerns in this type of telemedicine service. The significant advantage of the store and forward service is that it eliminates the need for long queues and waiting time.
2. Remote monitoring telemedicine services
Telemonitoring is the practice of making use of various technological devices to monitor the patients remotely. This can be the preferred means of treatment for contagious and chronic diseases. In this type of telemedicine service, the patient may be asked to conduct the tests by themselves. The use of technology helps in ensuring that outcomes of such tests are similar to those of professional tests.
These services can have the real benefits of improving the quality of healthcare services. People have become a lot comfortable in using the technology and are willing to make use of these services. The other positive advantage of these kinds of services is that it helps in making people more aware and educated to take charge of their health.
3. Real-time interactive services
These types of services provide interactive services between the patients and the practitioners. These services are getting immensely popular with the rise of mobile and web applications. Such platforms also provide the benefit of storing the medical history of the patients.
Real-time interactive service holds the enormous potential to reach desolated and remote locations. The other major advantage of the telemedicine service is that it can help in providing instant relief to the patients during the time of emergency.
Scope of Telemedicine in India
Telemedicine services have an important role in making healthcare services more affordable and accessible to the Indian population. As per the data released by the National Centre for Biotechnology and Information, there are 1.34 doctors for every 1000 people in India. In this respect, the scope of IT services holds amazing prospects.
As a matter of fact, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and Electronics and Information Technology has collaborated with the different states to provide these services. In the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Government of India also released the ‘Telemedicine Practice Guidelines’ in March 2020 to realize the full potential of telemedicine services.
These guidelines put the scope of telemedicine services in India in bright light. Further, these guidelines encourage the use of telemedicine services and boost the accessibility, availability, and affordability of these services for universal healthcare coverage in India. These guidelines also mention the various modes of communication which can be put to use for the delivery of these services. India is hence welcoming of the telemedicine services provided by the Registered Practitioners in three main forms:-
Audio consultation is one of the most convenient ways for providing consultations. The advantage of audio telemedicine services is that they provide an interactive experience. Furthermore, the conversations are dynamic and iterative between doctors and patients. This type of service can be covered more readily as compared to the video format of communication.
Video consultations are very close to real-time in-person consultations. In this form of communication, conversations are pretty straightforward and interactive. This mode provides for the opportunity to examine the patients through visual cues and demonstrate activities to the patients.
Text-based consultations are one of the quickest and most convenient forms of consultation. They are the most suited platforms for getting follow-ups and second opinions. Chat platforms are also the most suited means for sending report attachments.
The scope of telemedicine in India is thus promising. As per the report published by Mint, the telemedicine market is estimated to touch the milestone of USD 5.5 billion by 2025. The report publishes that 15-20% of the healthcare systems in India are expected to take a virtual shift. The e-pharmacy market of the country, for starters, has already pegged 2-3% of the country’s total pharmacy sales. All this tells us of the trend which is on the rise globally where users have started valuing convenience and comfort.
Advantages of Telemedicine
Telemedicine brings a range of answers to the question which have troubled the healthcare systems for a long time. There is a growing inclination of the global citizenry in making use of telemedicine services. The advantages of the telemedicine services in this respect are of special significance:-
- Telemedicine eliminates the need for making physical contact between the doctor and patients to save time and resources.
- Telemedicine will be a game-changer to make healthcare services more accessible and affordable, especially for the population from rural backgrounds.
- Telemedicine services have proved out to be a lifesaver in times of global pandemic. They are hence one of the reliable responses to emergency and life-threatening situations.
- Telemedicine improves the chances for medical practitioners to have the necessary oversight on prescriptions and drugs. This is because telemedicine applications store data and information about the medical history of the patients.
- Telemedicine services have reduced the cost of healthcare services. This can make healthcare services more viable and affordable to the masses in the long run.
Telemedicine Trends in Healthcare
The major reason behind the growth of the telemedicine and the telehealth industry has been born out of necessity. In its report, McKinsey has stated that there are three crucial factors for the growing trend of telehealth practices in healthcare systems:-
- The increasing willingness of the consumers to use telehealth technology.
- The increasing readiness of the practitioners to provide virtually enable healthcare services.
- The increasing inclination of the regulators to enable greater access to telemedicine services.
The report mentions the progress review of telehealth since the spike in COVID-19 cases, and the report came with the following findings:
- After the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the utilization of telehealth services has grown by an astounding 38 times.
- The perception and attitude of the providers towards telehealth services have started to improve from the COVID -19 era. This has led to the breaking of the ‘perception’ barriers like security concerns. The practitioners and users are more willing to make use of technology for various healthcare needs.
- Investment in virtual healthcare services has skyrocketed in recent times.
- Virtual healthcare services have widened their scope of offering various services to improve the experience of the consumers. Telehealth services have started to become more affordable and accessible as a consequence of this.
The telehealth and telemedicine services are well-positioned to break the challenges lying ahead of them to improve the quality of care and services. Concerns like security, workflow integration, and mismatch in the quality of in-person visitations and telehealth services, lack of awareness and education are still the gaps which needs to be filled. These challenges are slowly getting addressed with time and increasing the willingness of the users to go digital in the healthcare sector as well.
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