The unprecedented COVID-19 outbreak created utter challenges on traditional healthcare systems in India. Due to countrywide lockdown, citizens have not been able to consult with doctors physically. This situation led the government to change the regulations around remote delivery of healthcare services and allow telemedicine via video, audio or text.
Startups such as Practo, DocPrime, mFine, CallHealth and Lybrate were operating telemedicine services in India under a regulatory grey area. The clarity in the regulations around telemedicine will not only help these startups address the spread of coronavirus, while also improving access to healthcare among the rural class.
With an increase in the incidence of lifestyle diseases and rising healthcare costs, there’s immense pressure on the traditional healthcare system. Innovative technologies are allowing health organisations to enhance the access and reduce the burden on hospitals through real-time consultation with doctors through smartphones, tablets, laptops or PCs.
India has a shortage of around estimated 600K doctors and 2 Mn nurses, as per reports last year. India only has one government doctor for every 1,139 people, whereas the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends a ratio of 1:1,000. The shortage of doctors is limiting face-to-face consultations among patients. Secondly, India also has a shortage of hospital beds, which makes hospitalisation tricky, and there needs to be better facilities and infrastructure for cases where patients can be attended to via teleconsultation.
Telemedicine will reduce the time of consultations and improve the quality of healthcare services in rural areas, removing many of infrastructural challenges. The telemedicine market in India is expected to reach $5.4 Bn by 2025 with a CAGR of 31%.
Commenting on recent telemedicine guidelines by the Indian government, Ayush Mishra, founder and CEO of Tattvan E-Clinics added, “Telemedicine is a sector that bridges the healthcare gap between rural India and urban India. In rural India, where the access to medical facilities, specialists opinion and advance healthcare amenities are limited, telemedicine acts as a healthcare provider bringing access to the specialist doctors to these areas.”CHECKOUT DATALABS BY INC42
Regulatory Clarity Lifts Telemedicine Burden
With the emergence of telemedicine, startups investors and consumers have asked for regulations and guidelines regarding the procedure, reimbursement, quality of service and privacy issues.
Looking at the severity of the situation during the Covid-19 pandemic, the Indian government had launched guidelines for telemedicine solutions on March 25, 2020. Previously, telemedicine operations were governed by several statutory guidelines in India.
As per Section 27 of the Medical Council of India Act, 1956, any person who is enrolled in Indian Medical Register, can practice in any state of India. Hence inter-state telemedicine service was legal, though it was not formalised.
Telemedicine services were governed by the IT Act, 2000, but there were no clear guidelines regarding privacy, security, the confidentiality of patient data, and misuse of electronic data records related to the healthcare industry. In May 2003, the IT ministry recommended a few guidelines and standards of practice for telemedicine in India.
The current telemedicine guidelines in India provides a more comprehensive framework for applications, mode of communication, medical ethics, data privacy and confidentiality, document requirements, fees, process, drug list, technological platforms and more. The regulatory framework will also attract more investors to the telemedicine segment as businesses will have clarity for business models.CHECKOUT DATALABS BY INC42
How Telemedicine In India Differs From China And USA?
With the growing attention for telemedicine services, countries around the world are developing a regulatory framework for the industry.
India is one of the top 10 countries in the telemedicine market in the world. The early adoption of a regulatory framework will help the segment grow rapidly.
Tattvan’s Mishra further added, “Over the years, India has seen considerable growth in the telemedicine sector however, the growth was not rapid due to the lack of proper guidelines and regulations. In the coming years, I expect a high investment from the private sectors in the field of telemedicine. I think the telemedicine industry has a bright future and may become a multi-billion industry in the next 3-5 years.”
Online consultation platforms have supported healthcare needs of Indians at a time when getting out of the home is not a possibility. “It is the need of the hour to contain the spread of the virus. The healthcare burden on the country is gigantic around this time and platforms like ours can definitely help share it. People can consult doctors on Lybrate across specialities and so on other platforms, letting hospitals tend to more serious patients,” said Saurabh Arora, founder & CEO, Lybrate in a press statement.
India’s healthtech industry is primarily driven by startup players rather than large corporations. Besides leading players such as Practo and mFine, startups such as Meddo and Navia Lifecare have also implemented teleconsultations via voice and video facilities. The main aim is to reduce the number of patients visiting hospitals for non-emergency cases.
Besides telemedicine, other healthtech segments such as online pharmacy, medicine technology, medical devices and healthcare data and analytics have also called for increased regulatory clarity so that startups can focus on the model rather than tweaking their operations. For the healthtech industry, the Covid-19 crisis could bring about a lot more clarity and impetus just like the fintech sector got in India soon after demonetisation in 2016.CHECKOUT DATALABS BY INC42