Telemedicine in India: Can Virtual Care Lead the Way?

Telemedicine in India
26 Apr 2024
10 mins
Table Of Content
Telemedicine in India: Can Virtual Care Lead the Way?

    Virtual care has become a key player in helping India work towards providing healthcare for everyone. The COVID-19 pandemic really pushed both doctors and patients to start using telemedicine in India more often. There have been some recent positive changes in policy, advancements in technology, and improvements in infrastructure that put India in a good position to skip ahead and possibly do better than some Western healthcare systems. This blog talks about what we can learn from moving to virtual care, the emergence of telemedicine in India and suggests ways that India could use virtual healthcare to ensure all its citizens can access the healthcare they need, even with limited public health resources.


    What is Telemedicine?


    Telemedicine involves using technology like computers and smartphones to get medical care from a distance. This means you can talk to your doctors and get help without having to visit them in person. You can get diagnosed, monitor your health, discuss your concerns, and even receive prescriptions—all online. Telemedicine in India has grown significantly in recent years.


    COVID-19's Impact on Virtual Healthcare in India


    When India had to go into a COVID-19 lockdown on March 23, 2020, it really shook up the regular way healthcare was delivered. Many hospitals had to switch things around, moving patients from being admitted to the hospital to getting care while they stayed at home. Because of this, the number of people seeing their doctors in person dropped by 32%, but the number of online doctor visits jumped by 300%. In fact, the online consultation market grew a lot, reaching $163 million in March 2021. Thus, this pandemic has been the time when telemedicine in India has peeked up.


    India's Healthcare Challenges: A Closer Look


    India faces a big challenge with its healthcare system. 

    • GDP on Healthcare: The country spends only 1.28% of its total GDP (Gross Domestic Product) on healthcare, which is one of the lowest rates in the world.
    • Access to healthcare: In India, people living in rural areas or homegrown cities often have less access to healthcare compared to those in cities.
    • Out-Pocket-Expenses: Personal payments for healthcare cover nearly 62.6% of the total health spending in India, which is one of the highest rates in the world. Not surprisingly, the cost of healthcare is a big reason why many people in India remain poor.
    • Universal Healthcare: To really help lift its large population out of poverty, India needs to include steps to provide healthcare for everyone, no matter where they live or how much money they have. This is known as Universal Healthcare (UHC), and it is crucial for improving the lives of millions of Indians. And this can be greatly achieved through implementing telemedicine in India.


    Is India Equipped for Virtual Care?


    India is in a great position to start using virtual healthcare widely due to the fast-growing digital market.

    • Digital landscape: With over half a billion people already using the internet, the country is ready to embrace online health services.
    • Regulatory Frameworks: In terms of rules and regulations, the government took a big step in March 2020 by introducing the Telemedicine Practice Guidelines. These guidelines help clear up any confusion about whether online medical services are allowed and provide a detailed set of rules for both patients and doctors to follow. This ensures that everyone is legally protected when using virtual care.
    • Technical Infrastructure: On the technical side, the launch of the Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission (ABDM) in 2021 really helped set up a strong foundation for virtual healthcare. This mission created a digital network that lets patients and healthcare providers easily share important health information like medical history, test results, and prescriptions. The system also includes a comprehensive list of healthcare organizations and professionals all over the country, making it easier to connect and coordinate care. 
    • Digital Dispensaries: India is enhancing elderly care with digital health initiatives, increasing access for seniors through programs like Ayushman Bharat and widespread digital dispensaries.


    How is Virtual Healthcare Practiced in India?


    India set up a unique free telemedicine service called eSanjeevani in 2020, which is the first of its kind in the world. It has two main parts: eSanjeevani Ayushman Bharat–Health and Wellness Centre (AB–HWC) and eSanjeevaniOPD (Outpatient Department).


    eSanjeevani AB–HWC works like this: There are two main parts to eSanjeevani:

    1. eSanjeevani Ayushman Bharat-Health and Wellness Centre (AB-HWC) (Doctor-Doctor): This is a service where doctors at small health centers in rural areas can connect with specialists at bigger hospitals to help patients. It is like a virtual link between the junior doctors and the specialist.
    2. eSanjeevaniOPD (patient-doctor): This allows people to have doctor appointments from their homes using their phones. It's like having a regular doctor visit, but online.


    By 2022, it had reached a massive milestone of completing 3 crore consultations. On one busy day, it even managed to do 1.7 lakh consultations. The top 10 states using eSanjeevani the most are Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, and Assam. These are just the beginning steps, but they show a lot of promise for how telemedicine can change healthcare in India.


    Future Trends in Indian Telemedicine: VR and AI


    The telemedicine market in India was worth $1.9 billion in 2022, and it is expected to grow to $10.7 billion by 2028. New, embraced technologies like virtual reality (VR) and artificial intelligence (AI) are making telemedicine even better. With VR, patients can feel like they are in the same room as their doctors, even if they're far away. AI helps doctors give personalized treatments and analyze patient data more effectively. In the end of 2024, we will see more e-clinics, which are like regular clinics but online. 


    What is Required for India to Succeed in Virtual Healthcare?


    To make virtual healthcare work well in India, there are some important things that need to be considered.


    i. First, Regulations

    There need to be new rules and ways of managing things to deal with issues like keeping people's information safe and making sure everyone gives permission for their data to be used. When new health apps or systems are created, they need to be checked to make sure they're worth the money and actually help patients.


    ii. Second, Education

    Everyone needs to learn how to use virtual healthcare, especially in places where it is not common yet, like villages and city slums. This means teaching people about it in schools and setting up places in communities where people can learn more about it.


    iii. Third, Guidelines

    Doctors and other healthcare workers need to figure out which parts of healthcare can be done online and come up with clear guidelines for how to do it safely and effectively. They also need to learn how to use new technology to provide care in different ways.


    iv. Lastly, Training

     There need to be more healthcare workers who understand how to use technology to provide care, not just doctors and nurses. This includes training more paramedics and other health workers. For example, having more trained midwives could help save a lot of lives by providing better care for pregnant women and newborn babies.


    A Path to UHC (Universal Health Coverage)


    Telemedicine is changing the way healthcare works, making it easier for people to get quality care no matter where they live. And as technology keeps improving, telemedicine will continue to grow and help more people in the future. Some key investments from the government side will be a big help in making virtual care even better, faster, and more helpful on the path towards universal healthcare. And who knows? India's progress in this area might inspire other developing countries to follow suit. So, while there have been bumps in the road, the future of healthcare in India looks promising.

    Written by
    Dr. VijayalakshmiMedical Content Writer
    AboutDr. Vijayalakshmi is a Medical Content Writer at MrMed. She completed her Bachelor of Dentistry (BDS) from Sri Ramakrishna Dental College, Coimbatore, in 2022, where she expertise in dental and clinical research. During her internship, she has also worked on various research projects and presented scientific papers in national UG seminars. Post her UG, she has upskilled in pharmacovigilance regulations and clinical trial methodology through certification courses. She is proficient in researching, writing, editing, and proofreading medical content and blogs.
    Tags :#telemedicine in India #virtualhospitals #virtualcare in India #virtual healthcare in India