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Telemedicine Can Help Bridge Us Gaps In The Healthcare Delivery System

Telemedicine can help us overcome the barriers to accessing healthcare services – distance between provider and patient, access to transportation, fragmented care caused due to gaps in appointments, and lack of healthcare access.

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With the COVID-19 outbreak and the ensuing lockdowns making it difficult for patients to avail inpatient care, the Medical Council of India issued Telemedicine Practice Guidelines on the 25 th of March, enabling registered practitioners to provide healthcare via telemedicine. Providing additional relief to insured patients, the IRDAI directed both health and general insurers to include telemedicine in policy claim settlements. The much-needed statutory support comes in the wake of a practical understanding – as we move towards a new normal in almost every other aspect of our lives, we have to accept the fact that telemedicine is going to become an integral part of our healthcare system. Healthcare facilities, doctors and patients should accept it just the way they have accepted other convenient digital developments, like WhatsApp, Zoom Calls, and Cashless Payment Options.

What are the benefits of telemedicine?

Telemedicine can help us overcome the barriers to accessing healthcare services – distance between provider and patient, access to transportation, fragmented care caused due to gaps in appointments, and lack of healthcare access.

Can avoid hospital infections – Distance and long travel times often limit access to quality healthcare. Telemedicine can help overcome geographic healthcare barriers, particularly for specialized providers. It is a godsend for patients living in remote and underserved communities, and areas with a shortage of qualified clinicians.

Improved quality of care – It can improve the quality of medical care for patients with both physical and mental health problems. It can help bring down the rate of hospital admissions and re-admissions. Patients are also more likely to spend less time in the hospital, and stay more actively engaged in their healthcare.

Lowers healthcare costs – Telemedicine can improve the efficiency of healthcare delivery, reduce the expenses involved in caring for patients or transporting them to a different location, and even help keep patients out of the hospital via regular monitoring and timely interventions. In most cases, it is cheaper than inpatient care.

Augments traditional medicine – A trustworthy relationship between the doctor and the patient is essential for high quality patient care. Telemedicine can help support traditional healthcare delivery models and improve doctor-patient relationship. It allows care providers the flexibility and convenience of seeing their patients remotely for check-ups and follow-ups, and also educate them when necessary.

Ease of appointments with own Doctor’s choice – Telemedicine makes it easier for patients to stay healthy and more actively engaged in their healthcare. They can consult specialist doctors of their choice, irrespective of their location. It also improves job satisfaction for providers by making it easier for them to meet with their patients, allowing them to balance their work and personal lives better.

Technological convenience and acceptance

From a purely technological point of view, it is important to be careful with app selection and go for authentic ones. Most patients living in urban regions use a glucometer, digital thermometer, pulse oximeter and an electronic blood pressure monitor these days. If they are attached to a mobile app, the readings can be sent to a physician directly, who can then advise you on the best course of treatment. Several apps come with attached diagnostic centers. The reports are shared with the doctor directly and you get timely advice. Most telemedicine systems use smartphones to keep track of changing health parameters. Smartphone-based logs are an elaborate and convenient way of providing immediate help to patients. If electronic health records are linked to the Aadhaar card, it can be used to create patient registries for big data analytics, which will allow physicians to track the health status of their patients, perform better predictive analyses, and improve health outcomes.

We have been able to conveniently adapt to a number of technological changes over the last two decades. We also have to live with the novel coronavirus for quite some time. Going digital is the best way to avoid crowds, traffic, long waiting periods at the hospital, and increased chances of infection. For most patients, digital consultation from homes is the best option. With the recent central government push, telemedicine is on its way to become the norm now. The government should also consider using the vast spread of government medical colleges, district hospitals, subdivisional hospitals, CHCs and PHCs to implement a large-scale telemedicine network. States should be encouraged to go for public-private partnerships to establish a telemedicine network in government healthcare facilities.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Sandeep Narula

Associate Professor and Assistant Dean School of Pharmaceutical Management, IIHMR University, Jaipur

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