With people practising social distancing as part of the nationwide lockdown, patients have also had to limit their visits to hospitals to prevent being exposed to infection in the wake of the coronavirus crisis. Medical experts have been advised to temporarily suspend non-essential procedures for the safety of both the patient and the doctor. Seeking medical attention in these times has naturally become a challenge.
To solve the problem, several hospitals across the country started offering teleconsultation and video calling opportunities soon after the lockdown to help people seek medical advice without having to leave their home, through their respective hospital apps. Patients can seek consultation over the phone or on WhatsApp or book a scheduled appointment for interacting with doctors via video calling, protecting both parties from any contagious health risk. The service is being provided across almost all specialties.
The new development is in line with the telemedicine practice guidelines recently issued by the Health Ministry. Joint Secretary at the Union Health Ministry, Lav Aggarwal, recently urged doctors and patients to practise social distancing and avail the telemedicine services for diagnosis. “…Telemedicine can provide an optimal solution for not just providing timely and faster access…Telemedicine can play a particularly important role in cases where there is no need for the patient to physically see the RMP (or other medical professional), e.g. for regular, routine check-ups or continuous monitoring. Telemedicine can reduce the burden on the secondary hospitals,” reads the official Telemedicine Practice Guidelines document.
Physical assessment vs teleconsultation
“We started online and telephonic consultation services since March 23,” Dr Praveen Gupta, director & Head of Department, Neurology, Fortis Memorial Research Institute, Gurugram, told indianexpress.com, adding that patients preferred free consultation over the phone or WhatsApp rather than video calling, which is always preferred since the doctor can actually see the patient’s health problem on screen. Video calling is also an unfit option for some people who are not tech-savvy, and prefer talking on the phone instead, said Dr Gupta.
For people showing symptoms of a particular health problem for the first time, the doctor advised that they go for physical consultation. “They need to come for physical consultation because their disease needs to be diagnosed first. But for follow-ups, we are suggesting online consultation,” said Dr Gupta.
Cloudnine Group of Hospitals is also following the same rule for new maternity patients. “A new mother can also register with us but for the first scan, she needs to come to the hospital. Thereafter, the consultation with the doctor can be held on video call,” Raviganesh Venkataraman, CEO, Cloudnine Group of Hospitals, explained. The hospital chain had already been registering appointments on their app “It’s our Baby” that now has an added provision of video consultation.
The document on telemedicine guidelines by the Health Ministry also talks about the “higher likelihood” of medical records and documentation not being misplaced, while ensuring legal protection for both parties. Talking about their app, Venkataraman said, “The doctor can also see all the past consultations and past prescriptions of the patient. Even before the video call, the patient can write down all the relevant queries for the doctor to answer. Through the app, the doctor and patient get access to everything as it has to be in a live consultation. It is not just about two people speaking on video, but all the other enabling portions to make the process seamless.”
He added, “Our patients (mostly in the age group of 25-32) today are mostly millennials who live their life on WhatsApp and social media, irrespective of which strata of society or part of the country they come from.”
At Paras Hospital Gurugram, most patients seeking online consultation are those with symptoms of flu. The hospital is offering online consultation to follow-up patients only. “We started offering online consultation from March 22. We have our own app called Paras Health Mate in which we have introduced online consultation to follow-up patients, including video sessions. We are providing online consultation to only follow-up patients. No new patients,” clarified Dr Sameer Kulkarni, Facility Director, Paras Hospital Gurugram.
E-prescriptions and diagnostic test services
The charges for video calling remain the same as in the case of physical consultation. Apart from interacting with the doctor, hospitals are devising additional facilities to provide e-prescription which is accessible to the hospital pharmacy. “We have added a pharma delivery system so that the same prescription goes to our pharmacy to help procure the medicines. We are also trying to move the entire lab processes wherein the samples can be collected from the patient’s home,” Venkataraman expressed.
Apollo 24/7 is offering a similar service. “Our digital platform offers a full bouquet of healthcare services – 24×7 consultation with 1000 plus Apollo doctors across more than 55 specialities, seamless medicine delivery, diagnostic test booking and doorstep sample collection, digital health records and more. In less than two months since the national launch, we have organically acquired over 600 thousand registered users on the platform. We offer patients round-the-clock tele-consultation services. They also get medicines delivered to their home and diagnostic test samples picked from their doorstep,” Antony Jacob, CEO, Apollo 24/7 said.
Other independent health apps have also witnessed a significant rise in video consultations. Health and wellness app Lybrate has seen an almost 60 per cent increase in consultation at the time of the lockdown, including tier 2 cities. The queries have mostly been on health issues ranging from cold, cough, flu to joint pain, and backache, among other problems.
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