NEW DELHI: The number of users accessing online medical consultation platforms has seen a "huge jump" during the nationwide lockdown post the COVID-19 outbreak, even as a few patients have alleged that some doctors have "hiked" their fees in this hour of crisis.
The volume of traffic has also grown significantly from Tier-2 and Tier-3 cities as the lockdown and fear of contracting infection is even keeping regular patients away from hospitals.
Medical teleconsultancy start-up Practo shared that the volume of users on its platform is rising by an "average of over 100 per cent week-on-week" since March 1 and more than 50 per cent of all general practitioner e-consults were related to COVID-19.
Queries regarding fever, cough, cold, sore throat and body ache have increased by 200 per cent.
And most of the overall questions are from people in the age group of 25-40, it said.
"There has been a significant increase in the number of people using online consultation, aged 60 and above.
And close to 40 per cent of all teleconsults on our platform are happening from tier-2 and tier-3 cities," co-founder & CEO, Practo, Shashank ND, said.
The death toll due to the COVID-19 pandemic rose to 308 on Monday after 35 new fatalities were reported, while the number of cases climbed to 9,152, according to the Union Health Ministry.
While people are facing hardship in accessing medical care amid the ongoing lockdown that began on March 25, patients are either trying to address minor health issues by taking over the counter drugs from chemist shops or calling doctors on phones.
A patient, who did not wish to be named, alleged that a doctor he was seeing earlier for consultation, had "doubled the fee", more so in this hour of global health crisis.
A doctor who did not wish to be identified, said, most medics are tirelessly serving people during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Many are even giving free consultation over phone.
Some may have even increased the fee but that is because they are seeing far less number of patients they would physically see otherwise.
"Also, these doctors if they are going at homes of patients, they have to take all protective measures like PPE (personal protective equipment) kits so it is not fair to say the fee has been hiked to exploit the situation," he said.
Rajan Sharma, the IMA president, said the Indian Medical Association has "severe objections to telemedicine practice under the garb of providing treatment at home and we have expressed our reservations in this regard to the government".
"Since the government issued the telemedicine practice guidelines, the IMA as a part of its policy has asked all members to provide free consultation to all their patients," he said.
The IMA chief said it does not support "overcharging by anyone in such times of such distress".
Those who are indulging in such acts should not do so when the entire country is going through such a crisis, Sharma said.
Secretary of Delhi Medical Council and president of Delhi Medical Association, Girish Tyagi, however, feels doctors must keep transparency with patients when it comes to consultation in this hour of crisis.
"Doctors are also affected, their clinics have been closed for so long, and many doctors may have decided to do less consultation with proper dedication than doing multiple ones in a hurry.
Also, travelling to houses of patients entails risks due to COVID-19 outbreak.
But, I would say doctors should tell patients the fees beforehand.
And, patients should also ask beforehand, if there is a hike," he told PTI.
Meanwhile, other online platforms like myUpchar, is also seeing rise in the number of users during lockdown.
Rajat Garg, co-founder of myUpchar, said the demand has increased threefold.
"One thing that has also increased is that patients with serious illnesses or in emergency conditions, are also coming online.
They were not doing.
Also, 10-15 per cent queries are related to patients trying to check if they have COVID-19," he said.
Practo said other specialities that are seeing more than 100 per cent growth in online queries by users are in the fields of psychiatry (mental health), pediatrics, gynaecology and dermatology.
The metro cities, where most of the queries are coming from, include, Bengaluru, Delhi-NCR, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Pune, and Chennai, it said.
The non-metro cities from where most of the queries are coming, include Ahmedabad, Jaipur, Lucknow, Bhubaneshwar and Indore.
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