Telemedicine service providers in India are seeing a sharp spike in client requests for consultations through video calls as the fear of Covid-19 spreads with the number of cases increasing daily.
The surge in demand will continue in the foreseeable future, according to Portea Medical, one of the early entrants in the home healthcare and technology space.
“This could be the tipping point for the shift in preference from institutionalized care to telemedicine in situations where medical intervention is not an emergency. We have also seen a rise in the number of requests for flu and pneumonia vaccines, especially for the elderly, over the past week," said Meena Ganesh, managing director and chief executive officer (CEO) of Portea Medical. However, queries related to Covid-19 are still limited to larger cities at this point, said Ganesh.
Portea’s rival Practo has already seen a 30% increase in the number of queries coming in every week as patients are trying to avoid going to crowded hospitals for consultations.
However, Practo’s chief healthcare strategy officer, Dr Alexander Kuruvilla, said that it is imperative for people to consult a doctor who can study the symptoms, clarify the doubts of patients or ask them to take a test if required. “The only real confirmation of having coronavirus is by taking the test," said Kuruvilla.
The healthcare industry in India has largely remained under-equipped in terms of manpower and infrastructure with one doctor for every 1,500 citizens and a pandemic could make the situation unmanageable. Prompt access to medical expertise and credible information is extremely important in the fight against Covid-19, said Vijay Arisetty, co-founder and CEO of MyGate, a visitor and community management solution provider that has tied up with telemedicine providers.
“We are very keen on raising awareness on the matter and ensuring the availability of qualified medical advice for our 1.5 million users and have found strong partners in digital healthcare platforms such as DocsApp and mfine who promptly agreed to offer online consultation via their nationwide network of doctors. The doctors were kept busy over the weekend, with 2,800 consultations completed over the last weekend alone, at no cost to our users," said Arisetty.
Most of the queries are coming in from cities with large multinational companies and where the information technology sector is strong, said Prasad Kompalli, co-founder and CEO of mfine.
India could save up to $10 billion in 2025, if telemedicine replaced 30% to 40% of in-person outpatient consultations and there is digitization in the overall healthcare industry, according to a McKinsey report.
It is particularly useful in addressing the healthcare access and cost gap in tier-II and III cities. It is not clear how long the outbreak will last, but the sector hopes that this situation will open up the public to using telemedicine for much more than psychiatric and gynecological issues.
Telemedicine platform MediMetry has noted a spike in the number of queries as well as the number of people joining the platform over the last 15 days. Telemedicine can help to filter serious cases, especially in a situation where there is more panic than fatality.
Krishen Tyagi, CEO and founder of MediMetry, said: “We have also seen a rise in the number of corporate requests for our doctors to engage with employees. “