Telemedicine as an enabler to healthcare access has proved it’s mettle in time of  COVID. However, fear of data theft and cyber crimes have been a pressing issue. Dr Saurabh Chawla, Founder, docterz.com explains how telehealth services can be made safer and effective for patients

Telehealth has seen a sudden surge during the lockdown. What scope do you see for the vertical to thrive in future?

Telemedicine is there to stay. There is no doubt in that. The basic reason due to which doctors were not using telemedicine platforms was lack of proper guidelines. With proper guidelines coming up, the doctors are both confident and comfortable accepting this change. Online consultations are not here to replace traditional in-clinic visits but are there to complement them. Telemedicine is a great tool for follow ups for outpatient and morbid patients. Similarly, second opinions from doctors in metros can be accessed by people in distant towns and cities. 

Has telehealth been adopted rather evenly across multiple specialities in India? Which speciality has seen more traction in telehealth and why?

Though telehealth has been evenly adopted across all specialities but the nature of interaction differs from speciality to speciality. For example, first consults in dermatology and medicine are fairly common but it is used more for post procedural follow ups by surgeons. Digging deep one can find paediatricians getting consults for even minor symptoms, while gynaecologists are getting appointments for medical abortions and family planning. Same goes for psychiatrists as they get calls from patients about sexual wellness and mental health problems, both being considered private matters by the patients. Thus, all specialities are having equal traction due to their own reasons. 

Are there any initiatives to help more reluctant doctors adopt telehealth?

To begin with, the government provided clear guidelines on telemedicine, which was much needed to instil faith amongst doctors on using telehealth. Furthermore, the government has started a certificate course which one needs to complete before practising telemedicine. As a telemedicine portal, we share introductory tutorial videos to make both doctors and patients aware of how the portal works.

Both physicians and providers are important drivers in the use of telehealth technology. But how are patients coming to embrace telehealth?

Patients were interested in telehealth before the doctors embraced the concept. Many doctors have shared their experience where patients were keen for having a video call or voice call instead of visiting the doctor, much before the COVID pandemic. With concrete guidelines and portals coming up, this process has become both easier and acceptable. Currently, patients need solutions which have an easy to use interface. Any telemedicine platform giving option of vernacular language will further augment the use of the concept.

Moreover, there is a lot of worry about the regulatory and cybersecurity part. How do you address this issue?

One finds news of data theft or data leakage quite frequently these days. To address the same, doctors and patients should use safe and secure portals and apps. One should look for apps providing encrypted and HIPAA compliant video call service. If possible data should be stored in these apps with encryption. As a company, we are  providing end to end encrypted and HIPAA compliant video call service and are actively working on making the entire interaction including history taking and prescription generation as end to end encrypted. 

Now, the same technology is used in different ways, and it is used by different people. It also is being used in increasingly different settings right now – i.e. care is moving out of healthcare facilities and into the homes of people? So how do you think these technologies and services will evolve in future?

This will change the way healthcare is delivered in the next one decade. With telehealth coming up, soon we will have AI based assistants guiding patients in choosing the right specialist according to their symptoms. Similarly, doctors will be assisted on possible differential diagnosis associated with a set of symptoms along with suggestions on prescription and investigation. As far as gadgets are concerned, with increasing patents coming up, in the next decade we may be carrying phones or bands with ability to monitor most of the body parameters like blood sugar, water level, electrolytes etc. and a health facility monitoring them real time and guiding us in case of fluctuations. 

How can telehealth be made to work better for patients? 

Telehealth has a lot of scope for evolution. Creating systems which integrate online and physical consults along with their data will increase ease of use for the patient. Integrating insurance partners is also necessary for long term growth of the concept. Lastly, portals in local language and easy user interface will greatly improve the experience  for the patients.

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