Public-Private partnership would be key to stop panic from spreading and for quality care to become more accessible.

By Dr. Alexander Kuruvilla, Chief Healthcare Strategy Officer, Practo

The Coronavirus outbreak has made China a testbed of remote work, education and healthcare. With millions quarantined, thousands affected, major cities under lockdown, technology is being used extensively to identify and eliminate potential transmitters. Startups and companies in China are updating their apps, so food, grocery and parcel delivery can happen without customers and riders even meeting; hospitals are installing contactless lockers, so food can be unlocked by medical staff with the help of QR codes. Children are being homeschooled through live streaming, employees are using virtual meeting tools leading to an increase of several million corporate users in the last fortnight or so.

Chinese are also finding comfort in consulting doctors online, to know more about their symptoms and alleviate concerns around a possible infection. US agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are encouraging people to consult a doctor over a video, chat or phone, before showing up at clinics. 

Let’s understand why this push for remote healthcare makes so much sense in India: 

India’s doctor to patient ratio stands at 1:1700, while WHO recommends 1:1000, there are approx. 1.1 beds per 1,000 persons compared to the world average of 2.7. Our country has a wealth of medical expertise, yet it also one of the largest countries in the world in terms of both area and population. The country’s population density is at 420 people per square kilometer, as compared to China’s which is around 148 per sq km. Public hospitals are typically overcrowded, while private stays out of reach of many. In about six lakh villages where 69% of India’s population lives, the number of doctors are only a fourth of those in urban areas. Approx. 12% patients go without access to primary health care every day.  

Teleconsult as the first line of defense 

One of the best ways to ensure maximum coverage (medical attention) and minimum spread of germs, bacteria and viruses at clinics, waiting rooms, ERs, is to make use of virtual visits. Virtual healthcare or teleconsult, allows one to reduce exposure while receiving care affordably at the comfort of one’s home. If one’s contagious, then it reduces the chances of that person infecting others at the clinics as well as protecting healthcare workers against the spread of infections like Coronaviurus. It can be used effectively as a screening mechanism, whereby only serious cases are advised to go for tests, physical examination, as required. 

Teleconsult to seek consultations and alleviate risks of self medicating

With thousands, including adults and children quarantined at home, and millions staying away from clinics and hospitals for fear of infection, teleconsult emerges as a great option to consult a GP or other specialists right from the comfort of one’s home. Doctors on the other end can guide the patients on the precautions and allay concerns around catching the infection.

Partnership key to spur a rapid response for this outbreak

Technology, along with human expertise, can go a long way in the country’s fight against Coronavirus. Platforms like Practo that offer telemedicine can enable more and more doctors to consult a patient online, and if they find the patient to be at a high risk, can advise one of the three steps: i) go see a doctor physically and alert the physician in advance, ii) contact the respective state health departments who can then conduct tests remotely, iii) advise on self-care and self-quarantine. 

It would be a win-win to get government doctors onboard such platforms, so they can pay a virtual visit and advise next steps, including tests at home, if possible. 

Sure, teleconsult may not be there to administer full treatment, but it will definitely make a positive difference in screening patients, protecting healthcare workers and containing spread of the infection, by reducing the contact infected individuals have with others and helping with follow up care when in quarantine.