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Paradigm shift in India's healthcare system: Telehealth, telemedicine being used amidst COVID-19 pandemic

ANI | Updated: Apr 09, 2020 18:38 IST

By Joymala Bagchi
New Delhi [India], April 9 (ANI): India has now adopted the concept of 'telehealth/ telemedicine', the practice which has been in use by the US and European countries, to assist people when the country is battling the COVID-19 pandemic as the nation enters the third week of lockdown with more than 5700 confirmed corona patients.
The Centre has for the first time issued guidelines for healthcare practitioners on giving consultations through telemedicine. These guidelines were prepared in partnership with NITI Aayog and were approved by the Board of Governors that superseded the Medical Council of India.
To date, there was no legislation or guidelines on the practice of telemedicine, through video, phone, internet-based platforms (web/chat/apps) in the country.
Telehealth is the distribution of health-related services and information via electronic information and telecommunication technologies.
Telehealth facilitates, health and health-related services including medical care, provider and patient education, health information services and self-care via telecommunications and digital communication technologies. The primary modes of telehealth are video, audio or text.
Similarly, the concept of telemedicine includes delivery of health care services, where distance is a critical factor, by all health care professionals in the interests of advancing the health of the patient.

Dr Rajeev Mehta, Vice-Chairperson, Institute of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Sir Gangaram Hospital told ANI, "Telemedicine is a good use of technology especially in these unprecedented circumstances which India is going through currently. It is and will definitely help people who are in dire need of consultation. However, many drugs cannot be prescribed in telemedicine and I would request the government to allow some kind of Benzodiazepine as most of the people are coming with depression and anxieties."
Dr Anup Kumar, Professor, and Head of Urology and Renal Transplant Department, Safdarjung Hospital, said, "Many of the government and private hospitals have opted for teleconsultation given the present crisis and burden on medical practitioners. As far as my department is concerned, the patients are calling us and we are giving them consultation over the phone. Of course, telemedicine has its own challenges such as seeing the patients in person, talking to them but in this situation where OPDs are also closed this is definitely beneficial for the patients at large, primarily because the treatment can continue."
The All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Delhi is running the "COVID-19 National Teleconsultation Centre" (CoNTeC) on behalf of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MohFW), which can be reached by calling 9115444155.
It is also catering to doctors from across the country who want to consult the AIIMS faculty for the management of COVID-19 patients, as well as to the public in general.
In this regard, Dr. Ambuj Roy, Professor, Department of Cardiology, AIIMS said, "The Ministry has very rightfully come out with the guidelines which were not there earlier. Various departments of AIIMS are practicing telemedicine. There are challenges in the prescription due to a limitation in prescribing medicines, but despite all limitations, telehealth is extremely helpful for patients who seek advice and honestly lots of patients are calling us for the same."
However, with such advancement, few glitches like missing out on non-verbal cues by the doctor, doctor-patient bonding, high-quality internet connection at both ends pose a challenge.
Nonetheless, the telemedicine practice guidelines can be amended from time to time in the larger public interest with the prior approval of MoHFW.
Countries such as Italy, Spain and even the United States of America are still fighting the battle against COVID-19, while reportedly the epicenter of the spread, Wuhan, China is easing into normalcy, and it opened its borders following 76-days of strict lockdown.
With disasters and pandemics posing unique challenges to providing health care, India's well thought out and in time approach to telehealth will bring in confidence among patients as well as the medical practitioners. (ANI)