Kauser Ahmed, a real estate consultant in Bangalore, accompanied his diabetic mother to the hospital to ask the dietician for a meal plan, only to be put off by a long waiting list and multiple consultants on leave. Instead, Ahmed sought out HealthcareMagic.com, an online medical service. By the end of the day, following a series of online consultations, his mother had a meal chart designed for her condition.
Opting for medical help online is now a familiar routine for 29-year-old Kauser. He seeks advice on a range of issues, from diet and fitness to childcare (he has a nine-month-old baby) through HealthcareMagic’s Rs1,200 annual subscription programme, which offers his family unlimited access (over the Internet or phone) to the panel of 34 doctors working with the Bangalore-based company, which expanded its services to New Delhi earlier this year.
Health at first click (or call)
The sheer convenience of a specialist being just a phone call away can drive users to an online model. “After I moved from in-clinic consulting to an online model, I have seen an increase?of patients by nearly 10 times,” says Sheela Krishnaswamy, director, wellness, ChiHealth.in, a Bangalore-based nutrition and wellness consulting company. At ChiHealth, users log on and fill a form to get an immediate report on their health status, based on which a customized diet plan and lifestyle modifications are recommended. “We offer a combination of online chats and telephone consultations, but if it’s more than just a lifestyle issue, we recommend a full-fledged medical check-up,” says Krishnaswamy.
Even traditional healthcare providers are going virtual. “Online medical services offer patients a unique opportunity to rate hospitals, doctors and compare the outcome of treatments. It offers a transparency that is beneficial to the patient,” says Pervez Ahmed, CEO and MD, Max Healthcare, India. “We are about a year away from launching a complete online healthcare model for patients at our hospitals,” he adds. Currently, Max Healthcare handles routine queries (availability of specialists, appointment scheduling) online. In future, patients will also have online access to their complete medical records.
Information anytime, anywhere
New Delhi-based medical services portal, MeraMD.com, seems set to make this happen in short order. “In the next six months, we will have a database of patients’ medical records that they can access from anywhere,” says Anupam Kumar, founder, MeraMD.com, which is positioning itself as a complementary service to help patients reach the right doctor. For instance, patients conducting preliminary searches in a specific area (say, a hip replacement surgery or knee operation) can consult a panel of orthopaedics.
So is the chamber closed for good?
Most experts see online portals as complementary to traditional modes of consultation rather than a replacement (also see ‘Ask’, below left). “We fill the missing links for a patient seeking information. We do not expect our service to be a substitute for a face-to-face consultation,” says Kumar.
“We are not a hospital or doctor database,” says Kunal Sinha, founder and CEO of Rx HealthCare Magic, which runs HealthCareMagic.com. “So our strength is in providing the correct information to a patient in real time and directing her to reliable healthcare providers rather than displaying a yellow pages kind of listing.” Roughly half the patients seek advice for general complaints such as fever, cold, headaches or coughs, which can be treated by OTC (over-the-counter) drugs. Other queries are on sexual dysfunction, pregnancy and childcare, or diet, fitness and cosmetic concerns. “Our doctors do not recommend any prescription drugs; instead, if a physical check-up is required, we direct patients to a network of 23 hospitals that we have tie-ups with in Bangalore city alone,” says Sinha. His avowed aim is to create an “ecosystem of online health” where consumers can share their experiences about a doctor, chat with doctors, compare insurance policies and buy medicine online.
Users such as Ahmed, for instance, use the portals as a sounding board, a place to get a second opinion. “After being subjected to a series of cardio-stress tests for what ultimately turned out to be a muscle catch, I am wary of relying only on the opinion of a single doctor,” says Ahmed .
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