The Booming Impact of Online Healthcare

The spread of the virus has put the whole world into lockdown and many haven’t been able to access healthcare services because of it. But the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) along with the e-Gov initiative in the health care sector issued guidelines for teleconsultation, saving us all from the hassle of going to a hospital for consultation and increasing chances of infection and spread. But was against the use of any kind of AI to avoid machine learning to prescribe medicines.

During this outbreak, when people are not even able to get basic life necessities, they have realized the importance of technology and realized it is the only way forward especially for pharma. This is why in the past 3 months, almost 5 crore Indians have accessed healthcare services through online portals. This method helped doctors and patients stay connected while practicing social distancing. And this was a blessing for people with chronic illnesses and require constant consultation with the doctor.

When everything has gone digital in this age then why not health care, therefore teleconsultation, telemedicine, remote patient monitoring, and medical record systems is a step towards online health care services by health care professionals by using platforms like video, audio, and text that are familiar to all for diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of disease. For a better patient, doctor engagement bring-your-own-device and bring-your-own-application have become some of the means to integrate healthcare with social distancing. Other emerging interventions like store-and-forward technologies, remotely-hosted deployments, predictive analytics, Health Information Exchanges (HIEs), Early Warning Scores (EWS), Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) can further provide optimal health-care connected solutions

Internet users and active mobile users being more than 400 million in India has enhanced the scope of this decision by MoHFW in the patient care space. And in this present urban milieu, where everyone has a smartphone with good internet access; the number of potential users has been beyond imagination. There was a nearly 500% increase in demand for online healthcare since the pandemic began. It was a great opportunity for healthcare providers to pilot, facilitate, regulate and expand their business horizons in medicine, primary health care, and wellness programs beyond physical boundaries, and they have thoroughly taken advantage of this opportunity.

The MoHFW finalized and approved for Electronic Health Record Standards for India, paving the way for virtual health care services. Government-supported, cloud-based e-health cards, mobile apps, vaccination alerts, medicine monitoring, education tools, etc. are being offered to the public. Various programs have been initiated to facilitate this decision and provide for 24*7 medical assistance through the web, mobile, SMS, and call center services. The services offered through this online intervention are medical consultations, medical records, medicine supple management, and Pan-India exchange of patient information.

If we look at the data from March 01, 2020, to May 31, 2020, we see tremendous growth in online health care services. 80% of the users who opted for online healthcare were first time users and, surprisingly 44% of the users were from non-metro cities. This led to a drop of 67% doctor visits as most of the cases were handled by healthcare professionals online.

Some of the notable features of this are:

  • The most consulted specialties during the past 3 months were Gynaecology, GP, and Dermatology, which accounted for 51% of the total online consultations.
  • With people confusing minor allergic reactions with COVID-19 symptoms, TeleENT consultation witnessed 600% growth.
  • Due to the lockdown, the physical activity of many was next to nothing, and working for hours in bad postures resulted in back pain among millennials leading to an increase of Tele-orthopaedic consultation by 400%.
  • Disturbance in eating patterns and zero physical activity levels led to many digestive problems and resulted in a large number of consultations from Tele-Gastroenterology.
  • With the number of COVID19 cases increasing daily people have been stressed which is having an adverse effect on people’s skin, hair and nails because of which we can witness growth in Tele-Dermatology consultations.
  • The highest growth of 700% was seen in Tele-Ophthalmology consultancy because of a significant increase in screen time and the rise of irregular sleeping patterns that led to the eye and vision-related queries.
  • Loneliness and job-related issues have notably increased concerns over mental health
  • There has been a 350% increase in tele-pediatric consultation as well as parents are more concerned over their new-borns, in regards to the COVID19 situation.

Although still in a nascent stage, the new avenues for patient-centric healthcare infrastructure with easier access to qualified medical practitioners at a more pocket-friendly cost could well propel the digital health revolution. Well-defined eHealth regulatory frameworks, higher stakeholder investments, improved physician: patient density, connected medical devices, growing per capita income, expanding population accompanied by burgeoning lifestyle diseases, the ubiquity of the telecom and internet networks, and heightened consumer awareness across age groups and geographies will further advance the online healthcare ecosystem.

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