What are the Challenges of Telemedicine in the Indian Healthcare Industry?

While digitalization has resulted in us opting for unconventional methods that offer greater convenience, they also inherently come with their own set of challenges. Here are a few challenges faced by telemedicine in the Indian healthcare industry today.

In the world of healthcare, if 2020 showed us anything, it is the importance of embracing digitalization and telemedicine. As the world descended into panic and a state of uncertainty at the beginning of 2020, the Indian populace soon found them being confined to their homes for the major part of the year. This, understandably, has been a nightmare for patients suffering from serious illnesses and chronic conditions, with the pandemic placing unprecedented strain on healthcare systems around the world, including in India.

Following the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic, the Indian government launched new telemedicine guidance in order to help the patients and healthcare professionals, by providing medical services to the Indian populace. 

Considering the skewed distribution of the healthcare delivery infrastructure in the country, telemedicine is tipped to replace the traditional method of face-to-face consultation, but faces significant challenges in the Indian healthcare industry. But before we delve into the challenges, let us quickly understand telemedicine and why it has gained popularity over the past couple of years.

What is telemedicine?

One can compare telemedicine to physical consultation, where patients go to walk-in clinics or their doctor’s office. However, instead of talking to the specialist in-person, telemedicine enables patients to converse with the doctor via audio and video, thus ‘virtually’ visiting them. Telemedicine is a part of telehealth, which is the distribution of health-related services through IT technologies.

Thus, a telemedicine network involves three ends: the patient’s end, the doctor or specialist’s end, and the communication link. With the majority of the Indian population residing in rural areas, where gaining access to proper healthcare services can be a challenge, telemedicine can make a significant difference. However, there are several challenges the Indian healthcare industry must address, before telemedicine becomes the norm.

Challenges faced by telemedicine

Lack of awareness and basic infrastructure

Telemedicine possesses the potential to bridge the gap between the rural populace, and access to healthcare establishments, which are mostly located in the urban areas. However, for telemedicine to become an effective method to treat patients, it is imperative that the rural populace have access to smartphones, and also possess the functional literacy that they require to operate the smartphone by themselves to initiate the teleconsultation. 

The lack of proper telecom infrastructure could also prove to be a major hindrance in this regard, as teleconsultation requires better networks and faster internet speeds, which could pose a significant challenge on its own.

Regulations

While the Indian government recently launched the telemedicine practice guidelines, the regulations required to widely deploy telemedicine are still being developed. Until the announcement of the new guidelines, there was no legislation on the practice of telemedicine, which created ambiguity for doctors and medical professionals, while casting doubts on the entire process altogether.

Need for proper training

It is also imperative that the clinical providers are trained properly, in order to adopt the new technologies. With the technological advancements being made in the telehealth industry, proper orientation, along with the understanding of the usage of digital health tools is a must and should be a part of the training curriculum for medical professionals. 

Structural challenges

For telemedicine to become the norm, it is important to have multi-disciplinary approaches, along with a strong, unwavering commitment by the Indian government through proper budget allocations. Furthermore, we must also create a thriving telemedicine ecosystem that includes financial reimbursement mechanisms for remote care delivery, which will drive the growth of the telehealth industry as a whole.

Telemedicine, especially today, has become extremely important, but the telehealth industry still faces several challenges, both at a microscopic level and at a macroscopic level. With the Coronavirus pandemic making it extremely difficult for patients to physically visit their doctors and other medical practitioners, greater focus is now being placed on telemedicine and its scope. For telemedicine to truly take off and become the norm, there is a need for better regulations, better infrastructure, and offering proper training to the clinical providers.

Along with telemedicine, health cards are now making it easy for patients to get the best possible treatment for their illnesses and diseases. The Bajaj Finserv Digital Health EMI Network Card, for instance, comes with a pre-approved limit of up to Rs. 4 lakh, and can be used for a wide range of treatments, such as eye care, dental care, and cosmetic surgeries among others. With over 5,500 partners located in more than 1,000 cities across the country, the Health EMI Network Card can be used anywhere, and the amount can be repaid in easy EMIs, with flexible tenors up to 24 months.


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