Telemedicine Bridges Gaps in India’s Healthcare System

With an extremely low doctor to people ratio in India, which is the second most populated and seventh-largest country in the world, telemedicine and virtual remote health care are turning into a game-changer.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Jaspreet Singh, a resident in the northern Indian state of Punjab, said that using teleconsultancy, he could reach a senior doctor 482 kilometers (300 miles) away in the national capital Delhi to seek medical advice during the devastating wave of COVID-19 last year.

“Then, I had no other option and we contacted the doctor through telemedicine only. It provided help to us,” he said.

Singh is not the only person relying on telemedicine.

On the eve of World Health Day, doctors and health experts in India say that telemedicine is turning out to be beneficial for patients as they can receive timely access to health care.

Last month, the Indian Health Ministry announced that the country’s e-health facility known as e-Sanjeevani has crossed 30 million teleconsultations.

“The telemedicine service contributed considerably during COVID-19 and it decreased load on hospitals and helped patients digitally and remotely consult medical professionals. This has helped in bridging the rural-urban divide by taking quality health services to homes of beneficiaries,” the ministry said.

Dr. Naveed Pandey, a faculty member at North India-based Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research, told Anadolu Agency that telemedicine is turning out to be a boon for patients.

“During COVID-19, when we had closed our outpatient department (OPD), there was no option for the patients. They choose the option of telemedicine via phone. During the COVID-19, we would see around 3,000 consultations per day. It helped patients,” he said.

According to the Indian medical portal Practo, there was a 500% increase in online consultations for healthcare from March 1 to May 31, 2020, when the first wave of the pandemic hit the country.

Significance for Rural Health

Dr. Arvind Rajwanshi, health expert and executive director of All India Institute of Medical Sciences at Raebareli in northern Uttar Pradesh state, said telemedicine was helping bridge health gaps in India’s vast rural areas

“We are providing it either through telephone-based or internet-based medium. In rural areas, there is no one to see the pathology report or X-ray, so in that case, telemedicine plays an important role,” he said.

Experts, however, say that there are several challenges on the ground and there is a need to plug the loopholes.

“There is a need to popularize telemedicine among the masses and even the doctors. Since the scope is huge and it can transform healthcare in the country,” said Dr. Anil Gupta, an Indian public health expert.

“We need to implement it on the ground,” he added.

Listing challenges, he said the internet speed and a large population not accustomed to using technology were a hindrance to the popularity of telemedicine.

“We need to work in these areas, first to develop seamless technology and then to make it popular among the masses in the country,” he said.

Dr. Rajwanshi added that telemedicine needs better internet connectivity and urged to remove hiccups so that health services remain accessible for everyone.

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