Improving healthcare facilities has been a national goal in India. Among the emerging services, telemedicine is gaining immense popularity. Telemedicine is the practice of availing healthcare services virtually, using the technological infrastructure.
Photo by Edward Jenner from Pexels
Why is Telemedicine important in India?
In a country like India, healthcare facilities are often clustered in cities and towns, while rural areas have poor access. Reports claim that 60 percent of the hospitals and 80 percent of the doctors serve the urban areas. This is in contrast to the distribution of the Indian population, where the majority are clustered in rural areas(68.84%). This means that rural patients will have to travel long distances to urban centers to seek treatment. Also, the fact that India’s digital infrastructure is more developed than its physical infrastructure highlights the practicality of telemedicine.
Telemedicine is relevant in India for a multitude of reasons. Telemedicine enables patients from rural areas to access the best medical support from their homes, hence bringing about equity in healthcare. As consulting a doctor becomes effortless, patients tend to seek assistance at the onset of even minor symptoms, thus may prevent further complications. Apart from saving time, telemedicine is also extremely cost-effective as it eliminates traveling and lodging expenses. It provides great relief to those who find it difficult to handle responsibilities like childcare and job while meeting a doctor physically. Telemedicine enables us to provide medical care in disaster-stricken regions, where transportation facilities would have been disrupted. Carrying out disease screening programs and awareness sessions becomes much easier through e-health.
Health professionals too benefit from telemedicine. Practitioners at primary health centers are now able to seek assistance from specialist doctors at faraway locations when necessary. Getting a second opinion is also effortless. Telemedicine also facilitates frequent consultations and follow-ups, thereby strengthening the doctor-patient bond, which is essential for providing adequate medical service. Health professionals now have the option for consulting from their homes or even while traveling, and can have flexible consultation hours, thus helping them maintain a healthier work/life balance. Practitioners get to know about the economic status and social life of patients when they are treated from their homes.
E-health programs were especially helpful amid the covid 19 pandemic where patients were able to receive the required health services in the comfort of their homes, without exposing themselves to any infectious agents, especially in hospitals. Hospital beds and other supplies could be preserved for more needy patients ensuring proper utilization of existing resources. Telemedicine can be particularly useful in the case of chronic diseases like stroke and diabetes which require regular follow-ups; here the patient’s health can be monitored remotely and this is called telemonitoring. A global study by cisco indicates that the majority of patients (74%) prefer virtual meetings with doctors, denoting its acceptability worldwide.
Although telemedicine has ushered us in a new era in healthcare, it is not without limitations. Technical equipment and knowledge are required for proper practice of e-health, which at least some may lack. Also, some users may find their privacy at stake during these sessions. Data breaches and hacks pose a significant threat to patient confidentiality. Rules and regulations are often vague and some patients may find the proceedings unfamiliar and may lack confidence. Not all diseases, particularly those which require the physical attention of the doctor can be treated this way. These disadvantages are also to be acknowledged.
Telemedicine can thus be seen as an evolution in healthcare, which if utilized effectively can revolutionize medical management in our country. It is evident that telemedicine is here to stay and hence we must seek ways to further develop it. The general public must be made well aware of the benefits and disadvantages of telemedicine. Upcoming medical professionals can be trained appropriately so as to familiarise them with the procedures. Telemedicine can be included in the medical undergraduate curriculum. Greater investments in the technical infrastructure especially in rural areas would go a long way in popularising telemedicine in our country.