Synopsis: The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted Normal health Services in India. The telehealth services like Remote Shared Medical Appointments (SMAs) should be used.
- The March 2020 lockdown reassigned healthcare professionals towards COVID-19 specific duties.
- This deviated the focus from other healthcare domains in India and across the world.
How Covid-19 disrupted normal Health care services:
- As per a survey of WHO, Essential services like immunization and childcare got disrupted in the majority of the 105 countries surveyed.
- Around 45% of low-income countries witnessed a disruption in 75% of services. While this figure for high-income countries was only 4%.
- Impacts on India:
- Fear of transmission and lockdown resulted in the fall of diagnostic services. In tuberculosis detection cases 50% fall was reported from April-December 2020. Whereas, in antenatal care visits 56% decline was observed during the first half of 2020.
- The inequalities got widened when people in rural and remote areas were not able to travel to cities for getting specialized care.
- However, the use of technology helped to mitigate the impact.
Virtual Consultation India
- The E-Sanjeevani platform of the Indian Government provides virtual consultations to patients. It includes patient-to-provider and provider-to-provider consultation.
- A hub and spoke model used for this platform. It connected smartphone-equipped rural wellness centres to specialist doctors located in cities.
- Private players and non-governmental organizations also used the technology for reaching out to patients.
However, given the scale of India’s population which is devoid of healthcare, a switch towards remote shared medical appointments is needed.
About Remote Shared Medical Appointments:
- Remote Shared Medical Appointments virtualizes the process of in-person shared medical appointments (SMAs). It is an effective practice in the US for more than 2 decades.
- Thus, It involves the virtual interaction of a doctor with multiple patients having similar issues.
- Patients get more time with doctors.
- This process develops a sense of bonding among patients.
- This process provides better productivity as patients learn from each other’s questions.
Utility for India:
- SMAs have been very effective in the case of diabetes. It is notable that India is home to the largest number of diabetes patients.
- Aravind hospital in Puducherry has shown the potential of SMAs to combat glaucoma, a disease that causes gradual blindness.
- Offering this facility through the E-Sanjeevani platform can help the country meet the healthcare gap in rural India.
- SMAs will encourage people interaction and attract supplementary providers like physiotherapists and optometrists.
- The current COVID-19 vaccine drive will also be strengthened as providers can offer sessions to burst the myths related to vaccine efficacy.
- The switch to a new technique of healthcare delivery will require adequate training and mentoring of both providers and patients.
- Collaboration with training platforms like ECHO is desired to encourage the adoption of virtual SMAs. It trains primary healthcare providers in multiple states.
- India is blessed to have very low data rates where 1.5 GB data/day is easily affordable for many Indians. This automatically gives the country a significant edge towards augmenting telehealthcare.
- Further, the strengthening of digital health services will also be in line with WHO’s Global strategy on Digital health. It would help in realizing the dream of ‘Health for All”.