HYDERABAD: The Covid-19 lockdown has put regular life on hold. Life as we knew it has changed due to the norms of physical distancing which are part of almost every interaction today. With hospitals providing treatment for only emergency cases and clinics shut, people are now increasingly seeking out telemedicine to consult doctors. Though the facilities to access healthcare online have been there for quite sometime now, the pandemic has put them in the limelight. In fact, the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare issued guidelines to practise telemedicine recently. In this scenario, we take a look at the various telemedicine interventions in the city.
Accuracy and safety
When asked if the lack of physical examination is a constraint in telemedicine, Dr Haritha Yalamanchili, a gynecologist who offers e-consultation on Lybrate, a health and wellness platform, says: “The number of people using telemedicine has gone up after the Covid-19 lockdown. In obstetrics, I am receiving queries regarding the schedule for antenatal checkup, medicines they have to take during various periods of pregnancy, ultrasound checkups and suggestions regarding how to deal with complications during pregnancy.
Right now I am using Lybrate application, WhatsApp,text messages to help patients in this difficult time. Physical examination is helpful in arriving at diagnosis but the availability of ultrasound facilities, electronic BP apparatus, weighing scale, video call etc. are helping to treat patients online.”
Dr K Hari Prasad, president of Apollo Hospitals Group, says that a large number of people who are seeking telemedicine are their old patients who are under treatment for for chronic diseases like diabetes, hypertension, asthma etc. Explaining the process to access their telemedicine, he adds: “Patients have to log on to our site or download our app, and go to the teleconsults option for a consultation. The number of calls from new patients for other ailments too have increased significantly after the lockdown. In most cases, lack of physical examination is not a constraint. However, in cases where one-on-one consultation is necessary, patients are advised to visit the doctor before getting any advice.”
Impact on healthcare
Stating that the pandemic was a trigger for the government to push for telemedicine, Ayush Mishra, founder of Tattvan e-clinics, says: “Due to the pandemic, many out-patient departments have shut down. That is why, one-on-one OPDs have moved on to become virtual OPDs now. Recently, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare issued guidelines for issuing telemedicine in the country. This was long due as the same guidelines were submitted to the MoHFW in 2008, but it was pending for the last 12 years.
This pandemic became the trigger for the government to pass the guidelines, and these will change the way healthcare is delivered in the country, especially in rural areas. Contrary to popular perception which says that internet penetration is low in rural areas, I have found that they have better and faster internet due to less number of users.”Talking about the telemedicine kiosks they have put up in Hyderabad, Ayush adds: “Apart from providing medical consultation through our app to corporate employees, we have established a ‘brick and mortar’ model of providing telemedicine.
These models, a couple of which have been set up at Ramky Discovery City in Hyderabad, are nothing but ATM-like kiosks which have an internet connection. With the help of a nurse present at the kiosk, a person can get more than 41 diagnostic tests done on the spot. The reports can be transferred to the doctors in less than five minutes. The kiosks in Hyderabad have been connected to doctors in a reputed hospital in the city. If the nurse places a stethoscope on the patient’s heart, the doctor can read the heartbeats remotely and suggest the course of treatment.”
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Telemedicine can be delivered through the following modes:
Video (telemedicine facility, apps, video on chat platforms, Skype/Facetime etc.)
Audio (phone, VOIP, apps etc.)
a. Chat-based applications (specialized telemedicine smartphone apps, websites, etc.)
b. General messaging/ text/ chat platforms (WhatsApp, Google Hangouts, Facebook Messenger etc.)
c. Asynchronous (email/ fax etc.)