Prapti Narula, a 31-year-old resident of Moti Bagh in New Delhi, was six-month pregnant when the lockdown was announced. Her first reaction was anxiety and fear. As a knee-jerk response, she began frantically calling her doctor to seek an immediate appointment. The voice on the other side met Narula’s frenzied chatter with composure. “There is nothing to worry about. We’ll be in touch regularly throughout your third trimester via virtual meetings,” said her doctor at Max Hospital, Gurgaon.
The substitution to online consultation has put a lot of worries that Narula, and women like her had to rest.
The shift could be forever
Healthcare is set to fundamentally change. Telemedicine or e-consulting is being looked at as the future modus operandi for minor ailments such as cough, cold, fever, in addition to routine follow-ups. Most hospitals and doctors have already switched to these mediums as they’ve noticed a behavioural shift in patients who don’t only find these to be convenient but also cost-effective.
According to the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, ‘the future of telemedicine will depend on (1) human factors, (2) economics and (3) technology. We can safely assume that developments in mobile communications, sensor devices and nanotechnology will alter the way that healthcare is delivered in the future. The growth and integration of information and communication technologies into healthcare delivery hold great potential for patients and providers in health systems of the future.’
Safety is prioritised
The rationalisation of remote care has been instilled in the minds of most people due to the fear of getting the contagion and people are relying on the faster tool of e-consultation with their doctor hence avoiding being in a room or hall full of people who may be infected. Take for instance Nutritionist and Clinical Dietician Pooja Makhija who shuttered her clinic and switched to e-consulting about a week before the government announced a lockdown.
“I didn’t want to put my clients or my staff at the risk of contracting the virus. Besides, my work doesn’t involve the ‘touch and heal’ method as is the case with many other medical and alternative therapies. And luckily we have the technology by our side so I needed to make an auto-switch to e-consulting,” says Makhija.
There has been a 250 percent rise in online gynaecological consultations, according to Practo Health Insights. “A few in-person visits are required by expecting mothers for things such as ultrasounds or blood tests. The rest is for advice and instructions and largely to get questions answered. All this can easily be conducted online in the future too,” says Ranjana Becon, Consultant Gynaecologist and Obstetrics, Columbia Asia Hospital, Ghaziabad.
Even for nutritional consulting, many are reaping the convenience of teleconsulting or making use of the online apps available. Makhija launched a new platform called Moveat, a gated WhatsApp community that helps people access her services as a nutritionist along with Yasmin Karachiwala, a celebrity fitness trainer. Karachiwala has interestingly been e-training Katrina Kaif, during the lockdown. Both professionals have come together to help people use their inherent immunity as the best weapon in their artillery.
“Yasmin and I began working on Moveat more than a month ago, but we hastened to launch it now as this is the time our health is more important to us than it has ever been. Now it is difficult to get access to professionals like us and we thought WhatsApp is the most accessible medium of communication. So we clubbed nutrition and fitness training together,” says Makhija. Moveat requires users to provide personal details, answer a questionnaire, and make a digital payment to signup.
With regards to minor ailments like cough, cold, fever and the likes, doctors believe the shift could be lasting. “We hear out our patients and make a note of all their symptoms. In cases of sprains, aches and pains, inflammation, nose bleeding, minor respiratory illnesses, we can suggest medication online. Even diabetics can check their blood sugar at home and then consult us with regards to medications,” says Dr Vijay Col Dutta, Internal Medicine Specialist, Indian Spinal Injuries Centre.
While the automatic recording of blood pressure on smartphones, monitoring of blood glucose and other vitals can be done by doctors without physical examination, e-consulting comes with its set of challenges. Service awareness is the key as patients should be aware that they can consult doctors online for which steady marketing campaigns need to be in place. Access to an affordable and speedy roadband connection is the biggest challenge to e-consulting in countries like India where the age and gender gap are seen in terms of internet usage. Another important concern is collection of the eimbursement or fee for which patients in rural areas will need to be well versed with technology.
They should also be adept at using digital payment systems, which right now is not the case.