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The old ways of doctor-patient relationships will undergo a big transformation in the post-covid era. (Reuters)
The old ways of doctor-patient relationships will undergo a big transformation in the post-covid era. (Reuters)

Virus crisis accelerates use of tech in healthcare sector

  • Covid has proved to be a tipping point for a digital revolution in the country, say experts
  • Globally, telemedicine has emerged as a front-line weapon against the covid-19 pandemic

NEW DELHI : The pandemic has accelerated the use of technology in the healthcare sector, and this will reflect in every part of the industry, from doctor-patient relationships to drug distribution systems, at a much faster pace than anticipated during pre-covid times, even in smaller towns and cities, executives said at a webinar as part of Mint’s ‘Pivot or Perish’ series on Thursday.

“These things were bound to happen. It would have happened over three or four years. I think it just happened over three or four weeks. Sometimes, it just takes a crisis for it," said 1mg founder and chief executive officer Prashant Tandon.

In Mint’s webinar held on the topic, ‘A playbook for growth in the new normal for healthcare sector’, experts discussed the role of technology currently and in the post covid-19 era.

Online pharmacies and telemedicine have been playing a major role since the pandemic hit India, and the lockdown was imposed in March. Since then, online pharmacies especially have gone from facing major resistance from the government to being part of the government’s push to keep citizens safe from the pandemic.

“This was the tipping point when it came to technology adoption by both patients, as well as doctors," said Fortis Healthcare COO Anil Vinayak.

Even pharma firms have taken the technological route to conduct business. “We are seeing huge tele-consults in the way we reach doctors and the way doctors are reaching patients. We are seeing patients wanting to make this journey from illness to wellness by themselves," said Cipla managing director and global CEO Umang Vohra.

Vohra said that such changes would also happen in smaller cities, and could even be much quicker there.

Globally, telemedicine has also emerged as a front-line weapon against the covid-19 pandemic. The US Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Health Service in the UK have recommended its use for identifying high-risk patients and for treating other illnesses during the outbreak.

“The sophistication with which tier 4 towns are taking up this in terms of trying to map out drug supply in their territories using technology and smartphones is far more than the metros today. So, we should not be surprised with how quickly this wave could come," Vohra said.

Apollo Hospitals joint managing director Sangita Reddy highlighted how the government’s set-up of common service centres, which provide internet services to people in smaller towns and villages, are helping provide tele-consultation services.

In India also, long-pending guidelines on telemedicine were approved by the Union health ministry in March. The guidelines proposed over 10 years ago were finally sanctioned by the Centre after the covid-19 outbreak.

The shift to online services is also going to need significant changes in automation, which technology can even now provide. “Almost everything can be automated. Technology can make an impact on large portions in healthcare. Technology can assist in auditing that is there is any violation of rules and compliance," said Swapna Bapat, senior director - sales engineering at Automation Anywhere.

In its effort to move towards complete digital healthcare systems, the government is mooting to use Aadhaar-based identification of patients for maintaining health records.

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