New Delhi: Online doctor consultations increased 500% since March with five crore Indians accessing healthcare online in the last three months amid the covid-19 pandemic, according to a report by e-health service platform Practo.
Telemedicine or accessing healthcare either via call, video or chat has helped patients connect with doctors, as people perceive it safer than visiting outpatient departments (OPDs).
Practo found that 80% of all telemedicine users were first-time consumers, and 44% of the tele-consultations were from non-metro cities. In-person doctor visits dropped by 67% and Indians consulted their doctors twice a month using telemedicine.
The health ministry had urged people to take advantage of telemedicine services during the lockdown. Since then, usage of online consultation apps and medicine delivery services have been on the rise.
“For long, telemedicine remained a luxury and convenience for many. Today, it’s a necessity,” said Shashank ND, co-founder and CEO, Practo.
The last two months have encouraged people above 60 to use the platform and consult a certified medical practitioner rather than resorting to self-medication.
“Telehealth has multiple applications, optimal care and virtual care is possible and extremely helpful in a pandemic scenario like covid-19. It uses high definition transmission and clarity to provide rapid, accurate and real time consultation from professionals with expertise,” said C M A Belliappa, Bengaluru-based general physician (GP).
GP, gynaecology and dermatology remained the top three specialities accounting for 51% of the overall consultations on Practo. There has also been a significant rise in queries around other specialities including ENT, mental health, pediatrics, gastroenterology and ophthalmology.
Not surprisingly, covid-19 remained India’s topmost concern as related queries grew 200% with 50% of all GP consultations accounting for coronavirus-related symptoms.
Telemedicine is steadily increasing not only across metro cities but in Tier-II and Tier-III cities including Hoshiarpur, Karnal, and Durgapur.
“This situation is different from the pre-covid era where more than 70% of the consults were only from metros,” said Alexander Kuruvilla, chief health strategy officer, Practo.
Many other healthcare startups are seeing an unprecedented surge in demand as they shift healthcare delivery on to the internet, incentivise telemedicine, encourage online medicine bookings and use chatbots to answer patient queries.
Online doctor consultation platform Mfine is seeing fresh demand from states with lower doctor-to-patient ratio since India went under a strict lockdown on 25 March. The startup said it has witnessed an eight times increase in demand for online consultation in the last four months, mostly from the top 10 cities, including metros and tier-1 towns.
The platform also saw new user signups and consultations from users in states such as West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Jharkhand, where the doctor-patient ratio is the lowest in the country.
However, as with any new technology, we should tread carefully, to avoid abuse and misuse. It’s important to use one’s best judgement when leveraging this channel for virtual care, and for that, it’s important to adhere to protocols, guidelines and standards set by the authorities, added Practo’s Shashank ND.