The Rise and Acceptance of Telemedicine in India

India's healthcare sector is anticipated to grow at the Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 29% between 2015 and 2020 thus becoming a US$280 billion industry as per the Statista.com. But these figures do not reflect the best healthcare available to its widely spread population. 

Though the doctor to patient ratio in India is 1:1596, the doctors are primarily concentrated in the large cities. Also availability of healthcare infrastructure in villages and remote areas of the country stands at a dismal low. Villages in India even today do not have access to the medical doctors, medicines and healthcare facilities.

Today with the advent of digital marketing in medicine, the private sector as well are Government of India is taking initiatives to make healthcare available to larger strata of the population. With 68% of the population residing in the villages, telemedicine is soon becoming the most sought after tool to address equality of healthcare in India. 

What is telemedicine? 
Telemedicine is a part of digital healthcare. It is the merging of modern technology with medical science. Telemedicine is defined as the remote delivery of healthcare services, which includes health assessments or consultations, over the telecommunications infrastructure. It allows healthcare providers to evaluate, diagnose and treat patients using common technology like video conferencing on mobile phones or other devices without the need for the doctor and patient to be present in the same place at the same time. 

In India with easier access to mobile phones and Internet data medical facilities are being searched on and availed at the swipe of a finger. Whether you are searching for a specialist doctor, getting an online appointment, asking for an opinion on the examination report, getting a follow-up and progress visit, in-home healthcare for senior citizens, or genome-focused R&D, digital healthcare simplifies all of these areas. It can be as basic as two doctors discussing a patient’s medical condition and the course of treatment. Or it could as elaborate as transmitting case files and reports over the net for a live video conference. Today a reputed medical marketing agency or healthcare digital marketing agency brings doctors/hospitals closer to patients by setting up digital marketing for doctors as well as a winning strategy for hospital marketing.

Since the year 2000, the Government of India is also taking steps to build the telemedicine infrastructure. This telemedicine initiative is a joint effort between the Government of India, the Department of Information Technology (DIT), the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology and the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO). It involves the active participation of state governments and doctors and hospitals.

How does telemedicine work in India?
A telemedicine clinic in remote area has a general practitioner or an alternate medical practitioner who allows patients and doctors to interact over a screen. The patient is made to sit before a laptop where he can discuss his ailment with an expert in medical field in real time. Medical marketing has encouraged telemedicine services in India to connect to larger number of patients.

Advantages of Telemedicine
1. Far flung reach of modern medicine – To date, in many remote areas of India, witch doctors and healers are still providing cures. The government is taking steps to introduce telemedicine in these areas so that medical advice can be provided via digital devices.

2. Outpatient visits – As per statistics, it is believed 70 percent of outpatients can be given medical treatment without being physically present before the doctor. Today with top doctors online, treatment is a click away.

3. Wider reach – A healthcare digital marketing professional helps a doctor to have a wider reach online. These doctors consult patients who are geographically far away.

4. Optimum use of human resources – India is expected to reach 1:1000 doctor- patient ratio by 2024. Till then, telemedicine is the only way to make available the services of a doctor to a large population.

5. Reduce subsequent visits – Statistics have shown that out of every 100 patients treated via telemedicine only around 15% needed to physically visit the doctor or hospital. The remaining 85% of patients who were consulted over a telemedicine clinic had their ailments resolved in the very first tele consultation itself. 

6. Rural Healthcare data – Telemedicine assists in gathering medical ailments from the remotest areas of India required to build a national database of healthcare. Telemedicine and Geographical Information Systems (GIS) help the government formulate healthcare initiatives and policies based upon the epidemiology of diseases.

7. Face-to-face with medical experts – A doctor who may be a top expert working in a specialty hospital in a city can offer his expertise to a fellow doctor in a smaller hospital which maybe lacking services of such an expert. 

8. Low cost – Telemedicine can prove to be a low cost alternative to being treated in large hospitals in cities. The cost to commute to a city, expenses incurred to stay in the city during the course of the treatment and the actual cost of treatment can be reduced if good health care services are provided via telemedicine available to patients living away from cities. 

9. Educating the midwives on childbirth – In a country where child and mother mortality are relatively high, telemedicine can teach midwives the importance of cleanliness, postnatal care and other aspects of childbirth through videos. To bring about a major change in the mindset of rural Indian population, midwives can play an important role to educate young parents to readily accept a girl child.

10. Training - Telemedicine is the best tool to impart medical education and training of healthcare practitioners in remote areas.

11. Telemedicine tools for early detection of cancer- Telemedicine services such as video-conferencing and web based transfer of electronic medical records are being used in early detection of cancer and its treatment. Sharing medical data and reports of patients by telehealth care centers with oncologists in city hospitals helps at the very initial stages to get an experts opinion. It can also later benefit in post treatment follow-up consultations.

12. Helps to link specialty centers to nodal centers – In the private sector, the Apollo Group, which is a large healthcare specialist has opened a telemedicine specialty center and a telemedicine consultation center. Currently all the telemedicine specialty centers located at the tertiary care facilities of Apollo Hospitals are in big cities such as Chennai, Hyderabad, Delhi, Ahmedabad, Kolkata, Bangalore and Madurai are linked to telemedicine nodal centers all over India through internet connectivity. 

13. To impart knowledge - Public health programs and initiatives in India are undertaken for prevention of communicable diseases. Telemedicine helps to reach the rural population to educate them on topics like vaccines and improved sanitary conditions through educative videos. 

The potential of telemedicine has been recognized in many subspecialties of medicine including cardiology, neurology, dermatology and ophthalmology.

It is also important that telemedicine is not mixed up with virtual care.  Virtual care is the broader term in which telemedicine forms an integral part. Virtual care includes different ways doctors and patients interact with one another in real time on digital platforms. Tele medicine on the other hand is simply long distance and far reaching medical aid provided with the help of the Internet. 

Overall both virtual care and telemedicine utilize the power of digital tools. 

What is giving further impetus to telemedicine is that our doctors and medical staff are will informed and have good knowledge of how to use e-tools to address patients at a distance. Tele conferencing and live coverage of surgeries in the distant parts of India is helping local medical staff to perform the same medical procedure on patients without wasting their valuable time in travelling to metro cities. In addition, Overall, this assures a higher standard of healthcare at lower costs. 

Telemedicine was introduced in India by the renowned Apollo Hospital chain at Apollo Aragonda Hospital in Andhra Pradesh, in the year 2000. Since then similar tele-medicine efforts have been initiated by Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), Department of Information Technology (DIT), Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and by numerous medical institutes in the private sector. With widespread digital marketing in healthcare, the population of India is able to avail of telemedicine facilities in digital healthcare.

Conclusion: Although not a substitute for traditional healthcare system yet, telemedicine is growing in importance. With technology comes change. Today a medical marketing agency or medical advertising agency is helping bridge the doctor-patient gap in India by setting up websites for doctors as well as setting up websites for hospitals and other digital platforms for doctors and medical professionals. In a developing country like India, telemedicine will provide the added support required for successful healthcare delivery.

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