What’s in store : Future Of Telemedicine?

By Dr. Saurabh Chawla who is a renowned clinician, and is known for his contribution in the Tele-health growth of India, after launching  Docterz.com, India’s only exclusive video consultation platform, that has associated itself with 1000+ eminent doctors.Docterz.comis one of a kind tele-health startup that bridges the gap between patients and certified doctors in times like today where because of the pandemic people suffering from various illness and health issues are not able to reach the right hospitals and clinics. Docterz.com lets patients consult doctors from various cities online with minimal fee and no commission.

On the New Year eve of 2020, nobody would have thought that how torrential and transformational this year would have been.We have crossed around three fourth of the year and the world has already changed. We have reached the stage where one miniature virus, invisible to the naked eye, has brought down the most intelligent species on the planet to its knees. Nevertheless, hope is still there. The whole world has stood up as a single community in these testing times. Innovation and inventions are taking place all around the globe to fight this deadly minutes.

With the lockdown being imposed across the globe, virtual solutions have become the need of the hour. One such field where virtual intervention has been a bliss is health and medicine. This digital intervention is popularly known as telemedicine. Telemedicine includes, but is not limited to, online consultation between doctor and patient over a digital platform. This can be done in two ways, one is through personal video calling and secondly by registering oneself on an online doctor portal. This method of communication is very time and resource-saving as the patient does not need to travel and wait outside the doctor’s clinic.All they have to do is book an appointment with the doctor online, by paying the fee and check in the app at the time allotted. This has been a great boon in the COVID pandemic as online consultation saves patient from unnecessary exposure to infections at the hospital or during the travel for the same. Similarly, the doctor saves themselves and their staff and patients from similar exposure.

Telemedicine has been there for some time in many parts of the world but was not used popularly in India due to lack of proper guidelines. With covert pandemic ripping the world and impending lockdown looming, the Government of India and Medical Council of India acted proactively and released guidelines on the use of telemedicine in medical practice in India. To make telemedicine successful in India and viable, there are few components that are required to be taken care of.

Firstly, good connectivity is of paramount importance. Thanks to the ongoing competition between telecom players, most parts of the country have access to high- speed internet at affordable prices. Secondly, the device and user experience of the application are pertinent issues which are being given due importance by the developers. Another important aspect going around these days is data privacy. With data security becoming an important issue in the coming days, telemedicine solutions using encrypted and HIPAA compliant processes will be more popular. Already many mobile applications are taking the security measures seriously and I believe more will in times to come. As someone who is running a telemedicine platform, I can tell you how tirelessly my team is working on making it secure, both for, the patients and the doctors.

Telemedicine has provided convenience to both patients and doctors. It has helped doctors to extend their availability up to 24X7, but a lot of ground still to be covered. I believe, with time a standardised protocol about how to go ahead with a consultation will be devised. History taking and record maintenance will be given more importance. Additionally, fitness bands and other portable devices will be used to monitor various health parameters of the patient. Currently, heart rate, ECG, step and activity count, oxygen saturation monitors are already in use. Morepatents, including transdermal blood sugar monitoring, are under review. Another aspect would be a more layered structure for prescribing treatment and syncing of clinic visits with the e-visits. Moving to next, reimbursement system needs to be overhauled. Currently, few insurance providers include outpatient visits in their plan. With an increase in the subscriber base of users, more insurance companies will plunge into the OPD insurance. These insurance companies need to reimburse e-visits at par with in-clinic visits. Similarly, any prescription or investigation advised over the digital platform should be given equal weightage while processing insurance claims and settling medicolegal scenarios. This will play a great role in the development of telemedicine.

Corporate hospitals can create virtual medical centres or remote clinics to take care of patients without the need of them visiting them. These can act as a blessing for people who cannot travel due to health issues or staying at impassable locations. Assisted examination at these places will further improve the accuracy of the treating clinicians. Remote clinics can go to different locations and provide the best of healthcare at the doorstep. With 5G services coming up we might be seen transcontinental surgeries being performed by surgeon sitting in his office suite in one country while a robot taking commands and doing salary in another country. It may sound really busy at the moment but we may see it happening in the next decade.

Already x-ray and CT scan reporting are done by telemedicine in many parts of the world. Newer techniquesand better devices along with artificial intelligence will make an early diagnosis and screening easy and more reliable, hence, reducing overall morbidity and mortality. Corporate businesses can use telemedicine to provide their employs subscriptions of such apps as additional perks. This will not only improve the general health status of their employees but would also save their time during impending visits. ICU care is already being managed over telemedicine. The scope of telemedicine can be further enhanced by extending this facility to more and more health facilities. This will contribute towards peer to peer discussion for difficult cases in real-time.

In times to come, telemedicine will be a tool in treating patients of drug abuse, counselling adolescent kids about sexual health. This can be used as a comprehensive tool by the government to deliver mother-child healthcare services in distant locations. Furthermore, public health standards can be monitored and necessary interventions can be decided in time.

To summarise, COVID-19 on our strategies around healthcare. Social distancing and lockdowns have made us understand the need and utility of telemedicine. The world will recover soon from the pandemic but that telemedicine is going to stay and rather grow exponentially. It will be a big contributor to the State’s economy and the medical tourism industry. All we need to do as entrepreneurs, doctors and patients is to constantly work and innovate to make telemedicine an important and useful tool in the health delivery systems, try to figure out its drawbacks and solve them with effective solutions. Thus, making the world a healthier place to live.