Telemedicine – A Bubble?

To start with:

The novel coronavirus pandemic has changed a lot of age-old processes, whether we like it or not. A typical paradigm shift has taken place in the way patients used to interact with the HCP. COVID-19 might be getting all the headlines, but patients are still getting sick from other diseases and injuries. So, to cater to them Telemedicine helps.

Typically, telemedicine is defined as the use of electronic communications and software to monitor and treat patients instead of an in-clinic patient visit. Over the past decade, telehealth, a broader term used to define all medical services and health education delivered digitally, has grown steadily as an industry.

According to Ibis-World, the American telemedicine industry’s revenue has grown 34.7 percent from 2014 to 2019. The market size in 2019 was around 45 billion dollars, but it’s projected to grow to more than 175 billion dollars by 2026. Clearly there’s no doubting the fact that, digitalization in all the industries has taken over much rapidly than expected, thanks to COVID-19. Video conferencing company Zoom, whose stock is up more than 150 percent since the start of 2020 is a clear indication of rapid digitalization. In fact, video conferencing software developers are in the top 10 fastest growing industries in the US.

India’s Scenario:

When we talk about the Indian scenario, things are a bit different. At the onset of complete lockdown in India, Telemedicine Practice Guidelines were launched by the Ministry of health and family welfare, on 25th March 2020. Before that, there was no legislation or guidelines on the practice of telemedicine, through video, phone, internet-based platforms.

During the pandemic, there has been a boom in the telemedicine industry. A 500% increase in online doctor consultations in India, between March 1st – May 31st, 2020 has been reported by Practo, a telemedicine solution provider.

Advantages of Telemedicine:

Of course, there are advantages linked to telemedicine for patients like improved access to healthcare, reduces costs of healthcare, no or minimal waiting time for patients which adds to the convenience of the patients, being safe from getting infected.

When it comes to HCP, telemedicine definitely benefits them by reducing the overhead expense, adds an additional revenue stream, less exposure to illness and infections.

Disadvantages of Telemedicine:

For patients, not all insurers cover telemedicine, telemedicine may lead to care delays i.e. when a person needs emergency care, accessing telemedicine first may delay treatment as life-saving care or laboratory tests cannot be provided over telemedicine.

When we talk about the HCP there are disadvantages like the inability to examine the patients, technological concerns and licensing issues can be one.

But the most important factor to consider is the psychological satisfaction of patients, which is a substantial hurdle for the success of telemedicine.

Will Telemedicine stay after COVID-19?

Cleveland Clinic, United States predicts that within five years, half of the outpatient visits in the U.S. will be virtual.

An industry expert Dr. Jessica Bender of the University of Washington says “After this pandemic is over, telehealth will be here to stay and people will want, they won’t want to go back to only in-person visits. I think people will want the option of telehealth visits as well. Now, they can’t replace our entire healthcare system and people still will need to come in for their pap smears and exams. But I think people will find a preference for this.”

As per the IQVIA’s latest report on digitalization of healthcare, During COVID-19, face-to-face consultation has seen a sharp decline across South East Asia and there is a corresponding increase in the adoption of non-face-to-face consultations. Report as added that in the long run, telemedicine adoption is expected to show high growth in countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore, due to increasing acceptance and evolving user-centric operating model.

But the interesting data point to be noted mentioned in the report is that despite the non-face-to-face consultations remain in particular at close to twice their pre-lockdown levels, but there has been a sharp decline in non-face-to-face consultation after COVID-19 lockdown was lifted.

There’s a mixed opinion about telemedicine among the HCP in India, some are happy to adopt while some are complaining about the low satisfaction level achieved via telemedicine. Some doctors also complained that patients are not willing to pay for teleconsultations. When it comes to the patient pool who accepts telemedicine, the adoption level is high in patients who need urgent attention. While the adoption level is less in the chronic segment.

So to answer the question, we did primary research by doing a poll to know whether telemedicine will stay after COVID-19? The results are as follows. 55 % poll participants felt that telemedicine is here to stay, rest 45 % were sure that telemedicine will not make much of an impact.

Key Drivers of Telemedicine Adoption Include:

  • Increasing Acceptance
  • Aging Population
  • Convenience
  • Better Coverage

Concerns about Telemedicine:

Telemedicine does have lots of advantage and also offers an alternate way to patients to have a touchpoint with the HCP, but main concerns on telemedicine are as follows:

  • Lack of proper technology infrastructure to reach out to people in a rural area
  • Insurance coverage for telemedicine
  • Patient’s acceptance and perception
  • Patient’s data safety

This needs to be resolved for telemedicine to make an impact on the healthcare industry.

Source: CNBC, May’20, IQVIA,Aug’20, IBISWorld, Aug’20, Primary research conducted by, Aug20.    

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