As most Indians have been living under a nationwide lockdown for a considerable part of 2020, much has been said about the impetus that telemedicine has received due to the pandemic. Fearful of contracting the virus, citizens have not been able to see doctors in person.
To bring relief, the Indian government strengthened the regulatory framework around online medical services earlier this year and the industry has seen a surge in patient requests since. The pandemic, although a vital window of opportunity, has not created the need for telemedicine in India but rather underscored it.
The number of times Indians looked up “consult a doctor online” in popular search engines saw a whopping 650% increase from 6600 in February to 49,500 in April this year.
Telemedicine tackles a considerable portion of health issues and promises to ease the burden on traditional healthcare. It offers the advantages of synchronised data, time and location independence; it makes treatment for patients more affordable and prevents self-medication. Because of the privacy it provides, it is often preferred over in-person visits for treatment in sensitive issues like gynaecology, mental health, and sexology. Telemedicine helps transcend geographical boundaries and gives people a chance to consult with the best doctors in the country from wherever they are.
This is met with a rapid rise in the use of digital means in India – McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) recently found that India is digitising faster than any other country in the world after Indonesia. The increasing use of smartphones and broadband internet connectivity are expanding the market for telemedicine, which is expected to reach $5.4 Bn by 2025 with a CAGR of 31% in India.
The ascent of telemedicine will also see new allies and partnerships along the way, especially that with the Indian pharmaceutical market, which is set to grow to $55 Bn this year. As mobile commerce made it easy to use Instagram ads to reach customers directly and drive sales, it is worth exploring if telemedicine could become the direct response marketing solution that many pharma companies have been looking for.
The market prediction also comes as the Indian government launched new guidelines for telemedicine solutions on March 25, 2020 in response to the gravity of the situation during the Covid-19 pandemic. Previously, telemedicine operations laboured under some amount of regulatory ambivalence but according to the new guidelines, doctors can now consult patients on channels like chat, voice, video or any digital medium and prescribe medicines.
The new regulatory framework is bound to attract more investors as businesses will now have more clarity for their operations. Moreover, the centre’s mandate for telemedicine is sure to extend as its promotion aligns well with the ambitions of the NDHM (National Digital Health Mission) to propose a unique health ID for every citizen of India.
We all know instances of a family member travelling to an Indian metropolitan city to get a long-standing ailment treated by a qualified medical practitioner. Medical expenses indeed put a strain on our limited resources and hinder timely treatment. The Public Health Foundation of India estimated that about 55 Mn Indians were pushed into poverty in 2017 because of having to fund their healthcare.
If telemedicine replaced 30% – 40% of in-person outpatient consultations and the overall healthcare industry moved towards a digital upgradation, Indians could be saving up to $10 Bn in 2025, stated the McKinsey Global Institute report. Remote healthcare will also usher in new jobs in India – the report states that the digital medicine economy could create up to 60-65 Mn jobs across sectors by 2025. This will unlock potential productivity and foster skill development, large scale training and reallocation of resources.
Digitisation is improving the overall healthcare experience – this has largely to do with emerging technological trends which are designed to be consumer-centric. Much like food, groceries, and other essentials, there has been a rise in the demand for “contactless” delivery for patients to get treated without seeing their provider in the flesh.
Telemedicine platforms have responded to this by putting video consultations at the core of their services, and this has opened up a field for new and improved photo and video devices. Chatbots have been embedded in the software for a dual goal of asking for patient information and cutting down time and effort for physicians to integrate and standardise data. This information can be fed into the EHR (Electronic Health Record), making it easier for physicians and improving the efficiency of medical services over time.
Consumers are engaged in the process after the consultation as well. In order to keep adapting to the changing trends in the industry, telemedicine software gathers feedback and identifies ways to improve the process. For the long-term expansion of telehealth efforts, companies are also focusing on ensuring treatment adherence for patients. A great example of this is RPM (Remote Patient Monitoring), a relatively new field in India – its adoption and availability of wearable devices to monitor vital signs remotely will bring immense benefits to chronic care management and post-operative care.
Telemedicine platforms are making impressive strides in improving the security of data and privacy of information for patients. Protection of personal health information is one of the non-negotiable principles of telehealth and companies are working hard to safeguard data and put consumers in control.
Telemedicine in India is still at a nascent stage when compared to the US and China, but that is set to change. Covid-19 has forced the healthcare industry to change how healthcare is delivered with telehealth taking a front-row seat. It is rapidly becoming the new normal, and we are doubtless looking at a future of contactless and connected virtual health.