What is telemedicine?
Telemedicine refers to the practice of exchange of medical information from one location to the other using electronic communication when the patient and the doctor can’t be physically present in one place.
As quoted by the World Health Organisation, Telemedicine has defined as “The delivery of health-care services, where distance is a critical factor, by all health-care professionals using information and communications technologies for the exchange of valid information for the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of disease and injuries, research and evaluation, and the continuing evaluation of health-care workers, with the aim of advancing the health of individuals and communities.”
It is a tool that makes healthcare more accessible, cost-effective and increases patient engagement. Through telemedicine, the patients that reside in rural areas that previously had difficulties accessing a physician can now reach them virtually. Using telemedicine software, patients can see a doctor for diagnosis and treatment without having to wait for an appointment.
How is it Different from Telehealth?
NEJM Catalyst defines Telehealth as “The delivery and facilitation of health and health-related services including medical care, provider and patient education, health information services, and self-care via telecommunications and digital communication technologies.”
While telemedicine deals with the clinical services delivered by registered medical practitioners, telehealth has a wider ambit and covers the usage of all kinds of technologies for health and health-related services, including telemedicine. Telemedicine refers specifically to remote clinical services, while telehealth includes remote non-clinical services as well.
Telehealth encompasses health education services, remote doctor-patient consultations, health care and health information services. Telemedicine has a narrower scope than telehealth as it is a specific field that comes under the ambit of telehealth.
Types Of Telemedicine Practices
Telemedicine services are of 4 basic types –
- Based on the Mode of Communication –
This includes the three modes of communication – Audio (via phone calls, other apps), Video (via Skype or Face Time, telemedicine service apps) and Texting (via email, messaging apps, etc.).
- Based on the Information Transmitted –
Information transmitted can be of two types, one is the exchange of medical information via call or text, and the other is information including images, lab reports etc.
- Based on the Purpose of Consultation –
The purpose of consultation can be of emergency consult which requires immediate assistance, or of non-emergency consult which requires proper diagnosis and then treatment.
- Based on the Persons Involved –
Telemedicine services can connect patients to RMP, an RMP to another RMP, a caregiver to an RMP and a health worker to an RMP.
Role Of Telemedicine
- Telemedicine helps in preventing overcrowding of hospitals and clinics. Thus, it reduces the risk of infections.
- Telemedicine is a cost-effective service providing improved access to healthcare.
- Telemedicine provides services for chronic disease management, like diabetes and cancer.
- Telemedicine is beneficial in disaster relief, where doctors and medical teams cannot reach the affected areas immediately.
- It has the most important role to play in remote rural or tribal areas where the medical services are not available.
- Telemedicine is the best option for patients who require regular doctor consultation and precautionary measures.
Growth Of Telemedicine In India
A report by Industrial Journal 24 says that India’s telemedicine market is growing at a fast pace and is able to impact the global economy in terms of growth rate, revenue, sale, market share and size. Telemedicine is growing at such a pace because of the large rural population, which is deprived of proper medical facilities. Hence, telemedicine has fulfilled the need of the hour in the remote rural areas in the country.
The year 2018 and 2019 have proved to witness the fastest growth of telemedicine in India. In the years to come, it used technologies of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IOT) for further developments in the field. The government has launched initiatives like the National Health Stack and the Ayushman Bharat Scheme for the development of telemedicine in India.
Lately, in March 2020, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, in association with NITI Aayog has issued guidelines for registered medical practitioners (RMPs) so that they can provide healthcare services using telemedicine. These guidelines will affect startups and investors in the field of telemedicine. Practo and DocPrime give the best telemedicine services in India.
Guidelines Of Telemedicine Practice In India
Guidelines for Registered Medical Practitioners –
- The RMP should decide whether a telemedicine consultation is required or in-person consultation is needed in the interest of the patient.
- Telemedicine consultation should not be anonymous. Identities of both practitioner and patient are required.
- Multiple technologies and modes like video, audio, or text can be used to deliver the services.
- Patient consent is mandatory for any telemedicine consultation.
- RMPs must gather all the medical information about the patient’s condition before making any judgment.
- Prescribing medicines to the patient is at the professional discretion of the RMP.
- The practitioner should fully abide by the Indian Medical Council (Professional Conduct, Etiquette and Ethics) Regulations, 2002 and the data protection and privacy provisions of the IT Act for patient privacy and confidentiality.
Guidelines for Digital Platforms enabling Telemedicine –
- Digital platforms (mobile apps, websites etc.) providing telemedicine services to clients shall be obligated to ensure that the RMPs are registered with national medical councils or state medical councils.
- The digital platforms shall conduct their due diligence before listing any RMP on their online portal.
- The platforms using Artificial Intelligence or Machine Learning are not allowed to counsel the patients or give them medical prescriptions.
- The platforms must ensure a proper mechanism to deal with the queries or grievances of their customers.
- In case of violation of any norms, the platform will be blacklisted and no RMP would further be able to provide services on that platform.
What does the Future Hold?
With developments in the sector of ICT, telemedicine has a shining future in India. In the years to come, telemedicine will make use of AI for diagnoses of diseases, and IOT to monitor emergency health situations like asthma attack, cardiac arrest etc. through connected devices.
The digital platform of National Health Stack is aiming to have a digital study on the health records of all Indians by 2022 to make telemedicine easily accessible to people. Also, Ayushman Bharat Scheme aims at telehealth development to make long distance medical care safe and effective.
Projections for the growth in the telemedicine services is positive in India as there is a demand for remote health care services in rural India and also in the tribal areas. With the support of the government and the steps adopted by the private players, telemedicine can be proved to be the best innovation of the century in the field of medicine.
Telemedicine is expected to reach up to $32 million by the end of 2020. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, telemedicine has been a boon for the people in rural and remote areas. Telemedicine can be considered as one of the health solutions for any pandemic or epidemics occurring in the future.