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Home service providers stepped in to fill a critical gap in healthcare delivery as millions of patients struggled to get appropriate medical help during the months of lockdown.

Companies such as Portea Medical witnessed a 60% jump in demand during the over 70-day nationwide lockdown, as hospital visits for regular check-ups were out of bounds for a majority of Indians with chronic illnesses.

Calls for medical and blood tests for ailments such as diabetes and thyroid disorders, besides home visit requests for doctors and physiotherapists, rose sharply.

“Awareness about and demand for our services skyrocketed amid the covid-19 crisis," said Meena Ganesh, managing director and chief executive, Portea Medical.

The government had advised the elderly, children and pregnant women, and those with chronic conditions, not to visit medical facilities for normal check-ups or minor consultations. The viral outbreak had also led to the closure of out-patient departments at hospitals and private clinics. A number of hospitals were also declared covid-19-dedicated facilities.

“All this created a vacuum in healthcare services, which we are trying to fill. The numbers have increased by up to 60% in some areas, and there is a significant surge in calls for consultation on our telemedicine helpline numbers, compared to the pre-covid days," Ganesh added.

For Mythri R., a resident of Bengaluru, home services were the only option for her father-in-law who suffered a stroke earlier this year. “He needs personal care for six months and must have regular check-ups. To get doctors, speech therapists, physiotherapists and other caregivers home was convenient during the lockdown."

At Nightingales, Medwell Ventures Pvt. Ltd’s home health arm, demand for services rose 20% in March alone as patients cut down visits to hospitals and other public places. “Post-lockdown, the demand has gone up by 40% as states opted for home quarantine. It is a big validation for the home health model," said Vishal Bali, co-founder and chairman of Medwell Ventures.

Hospitals, too, supported the home health providers. “We assist many hospitals as they are not familiar with the home health model. It is competitive, but collaborative," he added.

Portea Medical has partnered with the Delhi government and Greater Chennai Corporation to provide home isolation services for covid-19.

“We are using our years of expertise, infrastructure and remote monitoring capabilities to help reduce the hospital burden and free up beds for those who need it the most," said Ganesh.

While the demand was primarily driven by Delhi-NCR, Mumbai, Chennai, Bengaluru and Hyderabad so far, it is now picking up in tier-II cities. The firms said covid-19 may also bring in customers from tier-II cities as healthcare infrastructure is poor in district hospitals.

Affordability is another factor that could benefit the home health sector. A day of admission in a mid-level hospital would cost between 5,000 and 8,000 a day. In contrast, a home health provider costs 30,000 to 40,000 a month. The institutional healthcare system is also overloaded by the massive disease burden.

“The country has a huge shortage of doctors, and this is where home healthcare and telemedicine services act as force multipliers," said Ganesh.

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