Telemedicine & Usability – Can Technology Shift the Burden of Care?

Can the use of technology in medicine really shift the burden of care from hospitals? In other words, is telemedicine the answer to heavily burdened healthcare facilities and experts in India that were, at one point, struggling to manage Covid-19 patients along with other specialties?

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the reliance on telemedicine has certainly increased. Doctors, patients, and hospitals who would have advocated more strongly for in-person appointments in a different scenario, have taken to providing healthcare on virtual platforms.

The reason for that is simple – telemedicine does come with a fair number of benefits.

How Does Telemedicine Help?

The safety and security of high-risk patients with comorbidities is always the first benefit that comes to mind.

“When my parents tested positive for Covid-19, online consultations with their doctors helped put them at ease. They’re both high-risk patients who have multiple comorbidities” says Neha Bawa, a New Delhi resident. “Access to telemedicine helped put me at ease as well, because I could connect with their doctors whenever I needed to. And since then, we’ve relied on online doctor appointments as much as we could.”

The reduction of costs associated with travelling for medical tests, appointments, and procedures is another benefit – especially in India’s rural town.

According to the Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care, a review study showed that “around 75.1% competent doctors practice in urban areas, 23% in towns (semi urban) whereas only 2% of doctors practice in rural areas.”

How do those statistics translate into the real world? Too many patients, not enough healthcare providers. And the more we get into the heartland of the Indian subcontinent, the more difficult it becomes to find safe and reliable healthcare. Which means, the burden of providing good quality healthcare rests disproportionately on hospitals and doctors in urban and semi-urban areas.

Hope for a Last Mile Connect?

Telemedicine is set to become a $5.5 billion industry by 2025, which means a higher potential exists to connect people living in rural India with high-quality healthcare services. While doctors may face some resistance to the use of technology, spreading awareness of telemedicine in rural areas can also be helpful.

“We need to see more stories of how people in rural or underserved areas have been able to use telemedicine to their benefit,” says Chiamala Aravamudhan, CEO at cSoft Technologies. “We need to see how transformative the experience of speaking to a doctor over a video call can be, especially when the doctor is in one part of the country and the patient is in another part.”

The benefits of telemedicine can cross-over into medical specialties like paediatrics, geriatrics, dermatology, or cardiology. Telemedicine can even benefit pregnant women with long-distance consultations for routine check ups.

But What About the Burden of Care

Will telemedicine become the new “wonder drug” to help provide timely care for everyone? Will we be able to use technology to shift the burden of care from semi-urban and urban providers?

Given that telemedicine has found fruitful applications in providing counselling services, offering initial and follow-up visits for non-critical care, facilitating CMEs, and even managing chronic diseases like diabetes, we could see greater adoption rates in the future. Which could ultimately lead to the burden of care being shared with greater equity.

The honest answer is, we will have to wait and watch. The horizon looks hopeful.