Telemedicine: The Savior of the Distressed Patients in the Pandemic Lockdown.
Telemedicine: The Tech Vanguard of the Covid Era
- Dr Sudhir Kalhan
Chairman, National Council for Healthcare, Assocham
Chairman, Institute of Minimal Access, Metabolic & Bariatric Surgery
& Head, Department of Telemedicine , Sir Ganga Ram Hospital.
The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic is inarguably the worst public health emergency to emerge in the last century. The ease of transmission of the virus along with its high fatality rate amongst vulnerable age groups and those with underlying health conditions has alarmed health professionals worldwide. Amidst the battle against the virus raging across the world, the twin problems of Doctor/healthcare worker safety and Non-Covid patient OPD have placed the Government of India in a major dilemma. While the Government’s consistent efforts to halt the rampant spread of the virus are laudable, this has resulted in most hospitals across the country indefinitely postponing elective surgeries and suspending OPD consultation for non-Covid patients. Coupled with the exponential increase in the number of Corona-positive cases in India, there seems to be no early end in sight to this dilemma. The nation has inadvertently been pushed into a complete lockdown leaving millions of patients unattended and hapless, not knowing what to do.
Interestingly, doctors and specialists have paid heed to the desperate calls of the non-Covid patient population through increased use of technology. While social distancing directives remain in force, increased use of technology and telemedicine remains the only possible solution for treating non-Covid patients. Consequently, this crisis has prompted the Government of India and the Prime Minister in particular, to promote telemedicine aggressively. The Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, Government of India has acknowledged the need for conducting OPD through telemedicine and has issued the Telemedicine Practice Guidelines dated 25th March 2020 to regulate the practice of Telemedicine in India.
In these trying times, a smart phone application named MyFollowUp has emerged as a much needed tool for online consultation and OPD. The MyFollowUp application is a free-to-download application available on both Google Play Store and the Apple App Store. The application is fully compliant with all requirements under the Telemedicine Practice Guidelines. Further, it is designed for effortless use and can be navigated easily by patients having minimal technological prowess. The Application allows a patient to search for his Doctor from a list of specialists available on the Application itself. Thereafter, the Application allows a patient to upload his/her reports, images and past medical history for examination by the Doctor. After the patient has paid the Doctor’s consultation fees, the Application then facilitates virtual OPD consultation over a phone call booked by the patient. An interesting feature of the Application is that it allows the Doctor to select a time-window of his/her choice to be available for virtual OPD on the Application. The fees for consultation is payable online through the app and does not require the exchange of the doctor and patient’s personal mobile numbers. Thus, the personal mobile numbers of all stakeholders remain anonymous and the Doctor is not bothered by pesky calls from patients at odd hours. The availability of the patient’s medical history on the application allows the Doctor to stay updated on the patient’s medical condition and easily examine his/her last reports. The Application has several built-in features customized to suit each Doctor’s/patient’s needs. After consultation, the patient receives a digital prescription on the Application itself signed by the Doctor. Pertinently, this digital prescription is easy to fill as the Doctor simply has to select the requisite medicine and dosage from an elaborate and exhaustive drop-down of options. The invoice for the consultation is also generated online and is available for download by the patient.
The MyFollowUp Application, developed by a group of motivated doctors of Sir Ganga Ram Hospital and technologically perfected by an Ex Wipro technocrat, Mr. Sanjeev Bhatia, is proving to be a boon not only for patients under lockdown but also for patients residing in far-flung rural areas of the country who have to undertake expensive trips to metro cities in order to consult specialists. The reciprocal benefits of the Application have catapulted it into popularity with over 30000+ downloads in a short span of time. With the advent of the Covid-19 virus and physical OPD visits becoming increasingly dangerous; the MyFollowUp Application is emerging as a promising solution.
The Covid-19 era is heralding a new phase in the patient-doctor relationship with minimal physical visits and greater optimization of a patient and physician’s time. A medical follow up now need not happen in overcrowded hospitals, but from the comfort of the doctor/patient’s home, office, cafeteria or even on the move. The hitherto unexplored potential of telemedicine in India is witnessing a new dawn. The future would most likely see telemedicine assuming a much greater role. It could be used to disseminate medical training, safe practice guidelines, Immunization Protocols and provide specialist back up in Tier-2 and Tier-3 cities. This Nationwide healthcare network will ultimately also help in creating the much needed National Registries and Data banks