With changing world order post-COVID, almost 15-20 per cent of the healthcare services are expected to shift from physical care services to virtual, remote health monitoring in the near future. In the next five years, there would be a considerable shift expected towards this new segment of healthcare services. The domestic telehealthcare segment is anticipated to grow at 31 per cent CAGR and expected to touch around US$5.5 billion in the next five years.
Telehealthcare means remote diagnosis and treatment of the patients with the help of telecommunication technology. Telehealthcare is categorised in two segments that are telemedicine and smart medical devices. Telemedicine is a facility where the doctor in one location can connect and provide medical guidance to his patient sitting in another site, through the help of smart technological devices involving audio, video, and text-based applications. In the smart medical device category, doctors can remotely track the health of their patients and collect vital data which would help them during the treatment. As compared to physical or face-to-face healthcare service, telehealthcare is much cost-effective, saves time, in turn leading to reduced medical costs. Telehealthcare also provides easier access to specialist doctors residing in different parts of the country.
There are several reasons why the telehealthcare service would witness a boom in India in the coming years. To begin with, as the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread havoc, many people would be apprehensive, especially the senior citizens, to venture out to get quality healthcare service. If the same quality of service is assured at the click of a button, people would want to avail of this service. Secondly, it would be extremely beneficial for people with mobility issues, who can now be assured of the same quality of healthcare without having to leave their home.
In western countries such as the US, where the advent of technologies is higher, the telehealthcare segment is expected to grow 38.5 perc ent till 2025. This year, growth is expected to be around 64.3 per cent. Knowing its importance during the pandemic, the US government's primary healthcare coverage provider- the US Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), announced in March 2020 that doctor consultations through both the audio-only and video platforms would be reimbursed. The payouts would be at the same rate as in-person visits to all Medicare recipients for the duration of the Coronavirus pandemic. Due to this move, the telehealth market has got a considerable boost.
While India's telehealthcare segment is comparatively nascent, the Indian Government has realised its importance and has been launching several initiatives to promote the same. It has launched the eSanjeevani, Ministry of Health's telemedicine initiative. It has two variants of telemedicine, namely – patient-to-doctor (eSanjeevaniOPD) and the doctor-to-doctor (eSanjeevaniAB-HWC). eSanjeevaniOPD was rolled out on the 13th April, during the first phase of lockdown, at a time when OPD facilities were unavailable. It has the potential of becoming the world's largest telemedicine platform. At present, the Government has provided training to 20,000 doctors and health-workers on both the variants of eSanjeevani across India.
In collaboration with NITI Aayog and Board of Governors (BoG) Medical Council of India (MCI), the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW), introduced the guidelines on telemedicine in April 2020. These guidelines would help in decongesting the existing healthcare facilities and ease the burden on the Indian medical infrastructure. Medical practitioners can consult and provide healthcare services remotely, which would protect not only the patients but also the doctors from getting infected.
According to the study conducted by the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy (CDDEP), India faces a shortfall of almost 600,000 doctors and around 20 lakh skilled nurses. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) 's recommendation, there should be a standard ratio of one doctor for every 1000 people. Only 11 states in India manage to meet this guidance. The situation is further strained in rural India and bridging that demand-supply gap mandates the use of technology.
With the help of telehealthcare, patients not only in urban areas but also in tier II and tier III cities can get access to quality and cost-effective healthcare services. India has a long way to go to achieve its full potential in the segment, which will heavily depend on the Government, creating more awareness of its benefits. Create acceptance of the new technology both by the patients and the professionals, will drive telehealthcare as a preferred mode.
The author is Mr. Deepak Sood, secretary-general of the national industry body, ASSOCHAM