When one in every sixth person in the world resides in India, providing quality healthcare that’s easily accessible and affordable to a majority is a herculean task. The enormity of the situation is further compounded when we add the growing urban-rural health divide to the equation. While the global pandemic ripped through the best of health care systems around the globe,Indian health care system put its best foot forward. When adjusted to the population density;not only were the number of positive cases under control,India also boasts of lowest fatality rate. Given the vastness and diversity of our country challenges were expected,but the health system stood up to the test and delivered.
Shift in Outlook
The pandemic year of 2020 has resulted in a tectonic shift in outlook from not just policy makers, but also healthcare providers. While the word telemedicine was coined in late 1970s and the dawn of the 21st century saw its debut in India, the uptake has been rather slow. There are significant barriers in large scale adoption of telemedicine; smart phone or device literacy, language differences between the provider and patient, and lack of awareness of the existing services to name a few.
Even in the presence of these and other hurdles, 2020 witnessed an exponential rise in use of technology to address the health needs of the population at large. This has been the proverbial silver lining of Covid 19. The Ministry of Health, Government of India, notified the Telemedicine Practice Guidelines for the country on March 25, 2020. Many pre existing portals further eased the use of tele-consultation for medical practitioners. Independent practitioners too started using the available portals and messaging apps for the same. What started as a makeshift arrangement in response to increasing cases metamorphosed into a viable alternative in delivery of health care.
The Benefits of Telemedicine :
- Keeping health care workers and patients safe.
- Screening for Covid -19 symptoms,providing routine consultation and follow up care
- Initial care and triaging according to the severity of the symptoms
- Ensuring that the community remains healthy and the hospitals are available for the sick and needy
- Non covid consultation for patients who were afraid to visit the doctors out of fear of contracting covid - 19.
- The location of the care provider and the seeker having less significance.
In a year of paradigm shift where kids adapted to virtual schooling and the place of residence was not a determinant of the organisation one worked for, doctors too welcomed the “new normal”.
The Government of India, realising the potential of telemedicine, launched its own platform in April 2020 “E-sanjeevani”. It aims to address the key problem area, lack of doctors in rural areas and the hinterland, by enabling the government Health Care Workers (HCWs) to serve as connectors between rural users and doctors working at Community Health Centres (CHCs) via teleconsulting. CHCs suffer from shortage of specialist in fields like paediatrics, gynaecology which is one of the current shortcoming of this platform. Also since it’s implemented by the state governments, experience varies from state to state. Language barrier and data security continue to be cause of concern.
Many private players too sensed an opportunity in the adversity. Some of the preexisting portals doubled down on their efforts, private hospitals launched their own platforms to enable distant consultation.
However a pan-India platform that addresses the current shortcomings and can be scaled up to meet the needs of the 1 billion population seems to be elusive.
Eka Care - The Right Candidate
One portal that seems the right candidate during these trying times is Eka Care.
It promises a digitally enabled and connected healthcare ecosystem for better health outcomes and aims to find working solutions for some or most of the barriers in telemedicine. With an interactive yet robust doctor-patient platform, it attempts to ease up tele-consultation. During the second wave, eka care provided 24/7 free covid consultation across India, and the same continued as post covid consultation. It added another feather in its cap by being one of the very first healthcare app that helps in booking a covid vaccination slot. The WhatsApp bot for Cowin certificate download is getting quite a bit of love ❤️.
Change is the only constant, they say. I would add here that while earlier the rate of change was constant, now even that’s speeded up. It won’t be too off the mark to say that telemedicine is here to stay.
If YouTube videos are available in the remote villages of India, it's not overly ambitious to aim for similar penetration of telemedicine.
And so Eka.Care takes a leap of faith towards translating the vision into a reality.
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