It is been three months since 1.38 billion citizens of India are under lockdown to follow “social distancing”. This has been implemented by the Government slow down the spread. However, the highly contagious nature of the virus has put the healthcare workers at high risk of getting infected while treating COVID19 patients. In addition, lack of infrastructure, absence of personal protective equipment (PPEs), and treatment and vaccine still under research have made medical workers more susceptible to infection. Unfortunately, since the outbreak, several keys and allied health workers, who were handling patients have tested positive and lost their lives in various parts of the country.
Covid19 pandemic has induced a colossal and immense transformation in the health industry in India. Suddenly Telemedicine/telehealth/e-health has become a powerful resource to overcome shortcomings of healthcare delivery. The risk factors and large geographical distances in India prompted the government to sanction the guidelines to allow the practice of Telemedicine which was proposed 10 years ago.
WHO has defined, “Telemedicine is the delivery of health care services, where distance is a critical factor, by all health care professionals using information and communication technologies for the exchange of valid information for the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of disease and injuries, research and evaluation, and for the continuing education of health care providers, all in the interests of advancing the health of individuals and their communities”.
The modern form of telemedicine came into practice in the 1950s when some healthcare providers started to share information by using the telephone. It successfully connected patients with their doctors and specialists or super-specialists. As time progressed, the wide use of the internet, evolved telemedicine practice into an experience like a visit to the doctor’s consultation room. Doctors were able to provide a further course of action, be it, investigations required or treatment and follow-ups.
Pros of telemedicine:
- Convenience for patients: Provides on-demand care without wasting much time in long waiting queues for consultation and examination
- Reduced cost: Reduced cost for healthcare providers like staff, space, and facilities, etc.
Cost-effective for patients as less consultation charges compare to visits
- Basic and specialized healthcare access to rural areas: Rural population can avail services from any specialized medical service at their doorstep. Specialized healthcare providers can increase their patient service network to rural areas.
- Improved patient engagement rates: Eliminated the barriers that caused patients to stop availing healthcare services due to high costs, time constraints, embarrassment of the medical condition, etc.
- Early prevention and diagnosis: With the increased availability of doctors through telemedicine, there has been a significant increase in early diagnosis resulting in high survival rate and prevention
- Shortage of doctors and hospital beds: Healthcare facilities which offer telemedicine to their patients experience a low rate of hospital admissions, resulting in the availability of beds for emergency cases
Cons of telemedicine:
- Technology restrictions: With restrictions in technology, like poor internet connection, there are chances of mismanagement of patients
- Coverage under health insurance: Services availed through telemedicine are not yet covered under health insurance
- Requires technical training for doctors: All the key and allied healthcare workers must undergo technical training to make the system work
- Medicolegal aspects: Medicolegal implications of telemedicine related to registration, licensing, insurance, quality, privacy, and confidentiality issues
The main goal of telemedicine is to provide better medical access and it accomplishes the goal for most patients, which is why the pros of telemedicine will always overshadow the cons.
Telemedicine in India before COVID19:
Just a few weeks back, GOI passed the “Telemedicine Practice Guidelines” enabling healthcare practitioners to provide healthcare services using telemedicine. Why it took the pandemic situation like this for the government to pass these guidelines which were proposed by the Medical Council of India 10 years ago?
Telemedicine services involve a lot of medicolegal and ethical challenges, such as confidentiality of patients, maintaining standard and preciseness of diagnosis and treatment, informed consents from patients, professional misconduct, malpractices, registration and licensing of doctors, coverage under health insurance, etc. These factors, all together, adversely affected the acceptance and adoption of telemedicine in India.
Because of its virtual nature and lack of informed consents, many doctors lost their license and practice for mismanagement of patients. Since telemedicine is a combination of information and communication technologies with medical science, the laws governing these two industries were applicable for telemedicine.
With all the risks and factors involved, doctors restrained themselves from practicing telemedicine and government failed to handle these risk factors and understand its importance.
It is never too late:
Covid19 pandemic has served as a wake-up call to the healthcare system and governments across the globe to introspect their capabilities of handling such pandemics. In India, the telemedicine platform was always available. However, it was highly underestimated and resisted by all stakeholders due to various reasons. The devastation caused by coronavirus forced the government to implement telemedicine practice across India to avoid further damage.
While the road ahead is long and uncertain, Telemedicine, telepathology and teleradiology platforms are giving some relief to the healthcare providers. If we need to protect ourselves, the protection of these front-line workers is most important during this pandemic. With “medical distancing” and high-tech digitization of these services, all the stakeholders, patients, doctor, nurses, allied health workers will stay away from infection. The population at large is still not aware of such platforms where they can avail end-to-end service at their doorstep. We all need to work together to create awareness and educate the population at large to avail these services.
AI and Telemedicine:
Artificial intelligence (AI) in healthcare is the use of complex algorithms and software to emulate human cognition in the analysis of complicated medical data. Specifically, AI is the ability of computer algorithms to approximate conclusions without direct human input. The primary aim of health-related AI applications is to analyze relationships between prevention or treatment techniques and patient outcomes.
Aindra Systems is an AI-powered Medtech company. Aindra’s Clustr is a digital pathology platform equipped with the entire case workflow along with HD WSI viewing capabilities. It can be combined with the convenience of a point-of-care system with the best of cloud-tech (Telepathology) platform, seamlessly integrating systems and stakeholders.
Aindra Systems is based in Bangalore, providing digital pathology solutions PAN India. It doesn’t matter if you are located in remote rural areas, please reach out to us on www.aindra.in or drop a mail with your requirements on email@example.com for further details and collaboration.
Blog by: Deepa Dharmadhikari (Regional Sales Manager)