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Healing from a distance



– the evolution of telemedicine in the Indian market

While WHO recommends a doctor-population ratio of 1:1000[20], the current doctor population ratio in India is only 0.62:1000.[21]. Telemedicine has been observed to be a contributing factor in reducing this deficit in India.

What really is telemedicine?

Amidst COVID-19, measures inclusive of lockdown enforcements, social distancing, rampant and widespread testing have been pitted against the steep graph of rising number of cases which refuses to budge. Owing to the pandemic, everyone stayed inside their houses and carried out their work from their residence. This is the genesis of the phrase “Work From Home”.

It was during the same phase that the masses witnessed the adoption as well as a huge increase in the usage of digital entities. Technology these days has a greater influence on the lives of people, it makes difficult work easier to do. Considering the domains of the technology, the one which has been continuously evolving, since the 19th century, is Telemedicine. The Covid-19 outbreak has resulted in a public emergency of international concern. The outbreak has acted stimulant to adoption as well as deployment of Telemedicine practices.

How do we define the term?

“Telemedicine, a term coined in the 1970s, which means “healing at a distance” (1), signifies the use of ICT to improve patient outcomes by increasing access to care and medical information”. In simple terms, Telemedicine is the concept of providing healthcare services via technology ( like video calls). It helps to remove the distance barriers between the patients as well as the Doctor. Historically, Telemedicine, as a practice, can be traced back to the mid to late 19th century with one of the first published accounts occurring in the early 20th century when electrocardiograph data were transmitted over telephone wires. So, Telemedicine is not a new concept but it is a concept that is evolving in line with the developments in technology. As the process of Industrialisation, as well as Globalisation, took place, they acted as a catalyst in the process of developing technology. Now we have smartphones, tablets, laptops (with high-resolution cameras, efficient display screens) which helps facilitate conversations (like video call) smoothly and thus continuously playing an important role in the development and evolution of Telemedicine.

Why does the phenomena possess so much gravity ?

Jonathan Linkous, CEO of the American Telemedicine Association said “ In an age where the average consumer manages nearly all aspects of life online, it’s a no-brainer that healthcare should be just as convenient, accessible and safe as online banking. ” Telemedicine, being in a continuous process of evolution, will change the way how healthcare services are delivered to the end client. And as this particular phenomenon is linked with the technology (which is assuming greater importance these days), the chances of getting it adopted by the masses increases significantly.

Mentioned below are some of the answers to the question of “why should I go for telemedicine?”

• Suits the individual’s pocket- With wider internet accessibility, people can connect with the doctor via online mode and successfully consult them. It is cost-effective because it eliminates the need to travel to the hospital (unless expressly advised), and thus an individual can save on the commuting expenses.

• Saves Time- In present times, individuals are occupied with the heavy workload, because of which they do not get time, to take out, for their health-related issues like visiting doctor’s clinics (or hospital). With Telemedicine, individuals are able to access health facilities sitting at home and are able to take care of their health accordingly. Thus it saves the crucial time of individuals and helps them concentrate more on their work with good health.

• The shadowing pandemic- Less physical interaction would help to reduce and limit the spread of Covid-19. In this present scenario, Telemedicine assumes prime importance as it eliminates the need for going to hospitals and making an individual more susceptible to get infected with the disease. Also, there are patients who are susceptible to infection, old people with ailments like diabetes, asthma etc, so online consultations eliminates their need to go out (which can be risky).

• Hospital Acquired Infections- The infection caused because of hospital visits is called Hospital Acquired Infections (HAI). According to a report by WHO, a prevalence survey conducted under the auspices of WHO in 55 hospitals of 14 countries representing 4 WHO Regions showed an average of 8.7% of hospital patients had HAI. At any time, over 1.4 million people worldwide suffer from infectious complications acquired in hospitals (3).

• Augments accessibility- According to a report by World Bank, 65.074% of India’s population lives in Rural Areas. According to the data provided by the National Health Profile 2018, 39.33 % of the total hospitals in the country are present in Rural areas. This shows that there is low availability to access health infrastructure in rural India. Through telemedicine, people in rural areas would be able to connect with doctors easily and thus it will significantly improve access

Every Coin has a Flip Side, is it with Telemedicine as well?

There are several downsides of opting Telemedicine over the traditional practice of visiting hospitals, clinics and pharmacies. Following are some of them:-

• Breach of security- As the digital world is expanding and presenting us the opportunities to explore various dimensions of it, so are the cases of Hacking have increased. Hackers, using different hacking techniques like phishing, SQL etc, penetrate these platforms and this comprises the confidential medical data of the patient. So there is a threat that the patient’s medical data may get leaked and also results in infringement of the Right To Privacy.

• Technical Glitches- Internet accessibility has significantly increased in the upcoming times, but there are several obstacles like low-bandwidth, power supply interruption Lack of knowledge (on how to operate these platforms) etc which affects the end goal of providing efficient Telemedicine services. Due to these problems, an individual is unable to express his/her problem properly.

• Exploitative of the economic divide- According to a report by the World Bank, in 2019, only 41% of individuals use the Internet in India. This provides us with the clear insight that Telemedicine is leaned towards the population with internet access. The other sect, arguably the larger proportion misses out on availing this facility.

Crux

By analysing the above-mentioned points we can infer that the concept of Telemedicine is developing and has the potential to achieve greater acceptability in the foreseeable future. Telemedicine is a constantly evolving concept, as it is directly proportional to the pace of advancement in the tech-based world. There are several hindrances in the delivery of health services via Telemedicine like susceptibility of the platforms of getting hacked, technological glitches etc. These concerns need to be given priority redressal in the process of evolution and dealt with, accordingly. If the shortcomings are strategically addressed, people might not just begin adopting it on a large scale but might as well prefer it over conventional medicine delivery mechanisms.



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