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Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock

Covid triggers rise in virtual consultations

  • With technology taking centre stage, automation and AI will help doctors focus on patient care
  • Fear of contracting infections has led to a slump in visits to hospitals, and a consequent decline in medicine sales

The coronavirus pandemic is transforming the healthcare sector, with organizations moving to a tech-enabled model, using tele-consulting and e-pharmacies to treat patients, industry executives said at Mint’s ‘Pivot or Perish’ webinar on Thursday.

“This is a wonderful opportunity to re-imagine how healthcare is going to reach people," Cipla managing director and global chief executive officer Umang Vohra said.

Fear of contracting infections has led to a slump in visits to hospitals, and a consequent decline in medicine sales. Hospital operators and pharmacies are hoping that the popularity of tele-consultations and online drug sales will help partially offset revenue losses because of fewer footfalls at outpatient departments.

“A lot of people who had never tried the digital channel now were asking for all these services, trying to learn how these platforms work because nobody wanted to expose themselves to infections," said Prashant Tandon, founder and CEO of e-pharmacy firm 1mg.

Apollo Hospitals Enterprise Ltd joint managing director Sangita Reddy and Fortis Healthcare Ltd group chief operating officer Anil Vinayak agreed that the pandemic will lead to a shift from physical to online, but said that providing quality service is most important.

“Just connecting (with patients) is perfect in a crisis but, going forward, let’s have the quality. Let’s do a proper electronic health record and have standards, and that doctors display their certification and registration number. Things like that are important," Reddy said.

Vinayak expects the finances of the hospital chains to remain under pressure for some time. “There is a fear of hospitals and there is this avoidance of what is considered elective. My sense is it will still take us several months before we are back to normal," he said.

With technology taking centre stage, automation and AI will help doctors focus on patient care.

“It allows humans to do the important work, which is taking care of an individual," said Swapna Bapat, senior director - sales engineering at Automation Anywhere.

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