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It's online all the way: The rise and rise of telemedicine amid Covid-19

Covid-19 gave a huge fillip to remote medical consultations, and the trend is likely to stay

Last year, a family had booked a teleconsultation at Fortis Hospital in Bengaluru for a patient who had difficulty in breathing. When, at the request of Sheela Chakravarthy, the hospital’s director, internal medicine, the family brought the patient on a video call, she realized that he was barely breathing and needed urgent medical attention.

Dr. Chakravarthy asked the family to rush the patient to the emergency unit. He was diagnosed with hyponatremia, a condition that occurs when the concentration of sodium in the blood is abnormally low. He was kept under observation and managed by a team of doctors and was discharged in a few days. He later took to remote consultations for follow-up care. 

Since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, several such cases have been diagnosed via teleconsultation, since people avoided hospitals for fear of contracting the virus there. 

According to data from RedSeer, the e-consultation segment grew at a compound annual growth rate of more than 300 percent to reach a gross merchandise value of $80 million in 2020. “It had a dream run last year led by the organic adoption of e-consultation services by consumers, due to the safety and hygiene concerns they faced with consulting doctors in-person,” says Kushal Bhatnagar, engagement manager, RedSeer.

Doctors, too, were satisfied with e-consultation services, which helped them carry on their practice during the pandemic. According to RedSeer, this sentiment is likely to endure, and e-consultations could be a $1 billion market by 2025. 

“Covid-19 is like the demonetization moment for e-consultations. Once cash came back into the system after demonetization, digital payments did not go away. Similarly, teleconsultation is here to stay,” says Satish Kannan, CEO, MediBuddy, a digital healthcare platform that saw its traffic increase by 60 percent after the pandemic struck.

Several hospital chains — Fortis Hospital, Manipal Hospital, and Aster DM Healthcare, among others — that did not have a teleconsultation platform until March last year quickly adapted to the new situation.

In March 2020, Fortis Hospital set up a backend team, which trained doctors in teleconsultations within four weeks. The hospital has been using the Microsoft Teams platform for remote consultations. To book an appointment, a user has to visit the hospital’s website, which has slots for each doctor. The website asks if a person wants a video or an audio consultation and the booking is done accordingly, followed by an online transaction for the service.

Within five minutes, the patient gets a message with a link for the consultation, along with a disclaimer that it is not a substitute for an in-person consultation. On the doctor’s side, a reminder alarm goes off five minutes before the scheduled consultation.

In the last 10 months, over 700 doctors at the hospital chain have carried out more than 100,000 e-consultations, and 50 percent of them took place during the peak Covid months. “The pace of teleconsultations might come down but it will continue to be an important tool for routine examinations, chronic diseases, and follow-up consultations,” says Dr Manish Mattoo, Vice-President, Fortis Healthcare.

It’s online all the way


On March 25 last year, the government notified telemedicine practice guidelines which made teleconsultation legal. Startup entrepreneurs promptly came together to build a platform called Swasth, aimed at providing a tech response to the Covid-19 crisis. 

Swasth has over 100 entities, including hospitals, labs, clinics, and pharmacies, whose short-term goal is to provide telemedicine solutions for Covid-specific problems. In the long term, it will provide such solutions for accessing health care products and services such as diagnostics, medicines, ambulance transport, and hospitalization.

Source: Business Standard

February 8, 2021


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