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Steady Growth Ahead

Telemedicine has been around for decades but it has taken foreground in health services recently. With increasing focus on digitisation of health services in India and reducing additional pressure on the existing healthcare system, telemedicine has been a major enabler in the digital health transformation of India

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Vikram Thaploo, CEO, Apollo

The Indian telemedicine market recorded a healthy growth of $1314.83 million in FY2021. The telehealth market which encompasses telemedicine, online pharmacies, tele-ICU, mobile health, home diagnostic services, etc. has been growing at a CAGR of 39.6 per cent. As per an EY-IPA study, the telemedicine market in India will reach US$ 5.5 billion by 2025. 

Telemedicine has been around for decades but it has taken foreground in health services recently. With increasing focus on digitisation of health services in India and reducing additional pressure on the existing healthcare system, telemedicine has been a major enabler in the digital health transformation of India. Additionally, the growing occurrence of chronic and infectious diseases in the country with a severe shortage of healthcare professionals and physicians are further expected to support the growth of telemedicine in India.

Growing Acceptance

With the recent telemedicine guidelines approved by the government, the segment has significantly focussed on offering quality services at affordable costs and added convenience, helping the country to transform from a provider-centric volume-based model to a patient-centric value-based model. 

With the present levels of adoption by doctors and patients along with emerging technologies and innovation, India is well poised to grow the digital health ecosystem. With the Indian government's ‘Digital Health Mission’, there have been plenty of advancements in the healthtech space over the past few years. The digitisation of patient health records commonly referred to as the Ayushman Bharat Digital Health Mission (ABDM) is one such solution to enable easy sharing and exchange of healthcare data between the various levels. With the EHR, it will be possible to capture and store distinct patient health data and it can be made accessible at the point of care including PHC, SHC and THC. However, the huge call out will be maintaining data confidentiality and security.

While these technologies can provide some discrete value on their own, their use in conjunction with telemedicine services can potentially reshape how patients experience the healthcare system.

What makes telemedicine exceptionally attractive is its ability to address key healthcare challenges related to accessibility and affordability that have plagued the traditional system for decades. 

Also, with strong public sector assistance, several investors and startups have built profitable businesses around telehealth. A recent report revealed that India is now home to 5,295 healthtech startups and 33 funded telehealth startups. According to a report by FICCI, online pharmacies added over 6 million new customers and doubled sales during the initial months of lockdown, attracting the interest of India's largest ecommerce investors.

Another rising trend has been the increasing adoption of Tele-ICU services which allows healthcare specialists to remotely manage patients in ICU across different locations from a command centre, rather than at the patient’s bedside. With Tele-ICU, an intensivist can manage 60-80 patients, as compared to 10-12 patients earlier, and deploy diagnostic tools to improve patient outcomes. With only 6.8 ICU beds for every 100,000 people and less than 5,000 intensivists in the country, Tele-ICUs has proved to be a game changer for India.

The Future Looks Promising

The year 2020 has shown that telemedicine is an excellent way to provide healthcare to those who lack adequate healthcare facilities while living in remote rural areas. The method is as efficient as it is cost-effective. Because of its cost-effectiveness and convenience, telemedicine has proved that it is undoubtedly the future of healthcare and is here to stay. 

Telemedicine offers invaluable benefits. There are now devices that can monitor a patient's stats such as saturation pulse, pulse and ECG in real-time. This data can be stored and analysed, enhancing the safety and security outcomes of patients at home. Providing a real-time solution depending on real-time information available on the platforms is perhaps one of the most significant benefits of this new technology. For all such reasons, telemedicine poses a significant improvement in primary healthcare. There's no doubt that telehealth will help in the future evolution of healthcare in India immensely.

Besides remote monitoring technologies and devices, healthcare institutions are using innovative technology to create connected healthcare systems in what we call “connected or smart patient rooms". Advancements in display, mobile and wearable technology, integrated with the smart patient room, are now making it possible for doctors and medical practitioners to spend less time on administration and more doing what they do best — taking care of patients.

Final Words

A lot needs to be done to enable a governed telemedicine ecosystem in the country. There is a growing need for entrepreneurs, healthcare providers, conglomerates and the government to work in tandem to boost the telemedicine market. There is also a critical need to develop comprehensive frameworks for clinical governance in the telehealth market, define reimbursement models for telehealth services, and manage liability concerns, especially, when it comes to cases of data security and misinterpretation. Technological innovation needs regulatory boundaries to enable a healthy telehealth ecosystem.

The year 2022 is likely to witness a significant increase in digitised healthcare that needs support with solid governance. Acceptable quality, confidentiality and safety monitoring are imperative to scale up the adoption of these services.

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.

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magazine 12 March 2022

Vikram Thaploo

CEO Apollo TeleHealth

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