Telemedicine gets a boost in the time of COVID-19 and social distancing

More people dial to check if their symptoms are related to the novel coronavirus

India Virus Outbreak A girl buys surgical masks which are in high demand due to COVID-19 situation in Imphal, capital of the northeastern Indian state of Manipur | AP

When Mohini Khurana started feeling feverish and uneasy, her mind was immediately drawn to the COVID-19 scare. She was developing a sore throat and was feeling fatigued and drained. But at no point did she feel breathless, which is one of the most telling symptoms of the novel coronavirus. She decided to take a medical opinion but did not want to travel down to the doctor, given the talk about practising social distancing. Which is why she simply decided to have a teleconsultation with her family physician who was available 24X7. 

Amidst the rising panic regarding COVID-19 across India, technology is being leveraged extensively to identify and eliminate potential transmitters. Those suffering from cold, cough and fever are taking to teleconsultations to gauge if they need to pay an in-person visit to the hospital for getting tested for coronavirus. Telemedicine has made it possible for those who are isolated due to the coronavirus to be able to access medical services from home by audio or video, an important step to protect other patients and healthcare workers from being infected. Additionally, with the availability of teleconsultation, people will be prevented from self-medication, which leads to other complications. Online doctor consultation platforms are witnessing a surge in the number of consultations as more people dial them to check if their symptoms are related to the novel coronavirus. 

Practo which launched its teleconsultation services for COVID-19 saw a 30 per cent increase in the number of online queries in the last one week and 53 per cent of those queries were related to Covid. The company has also added more General Practitioners on to the platform in order to enable more consultations for people. "Queries regarding fever, cough, cold, sore throat and body ache have increased by 30 per cent in the last two weeks on Practo. Queries are coming from tier2/3 cities," said Dr Alexander Kuruvilla, chief healthcare strategy officer at Practo.

Aster CMI Hospital and Aster RV Hospital, as a part of Aster Volunteers initiative, have launched a 24x7 COVID-19 Support Centre for people. The tele-triage (assessment of the condition and appropriate guidance for treatment) service will be free for everyone seeking medical help if they suspect they have symptoms related to the novel coronavirus disease. Speaking about the initiative, Dr Azad Moopen, founder chairman and managing director, Aster DM Healthcare said: “In these trying times, we would like to put every possible measure in place to help people identify symptoms related to coronavirus and get appropriate help on time. The online service promotes social distancing while it also gives patients easy access to expert advice when they need it the most. A teleconsulting tool like Aster Covid Support Centre has the potential to enable earlier detection of cases and channeliSe patients to seek appropriate treatment on time." 

While telemedicine may not be able to administer full treatment, it serves as a screening method in order to contain the spread of the virus and eventually aid in flattening the peaking curve. When in need, patients can consult a doctor either via video chat or phone, before stepping out to clinics and hospitals. At a time of social distancing, telemedicine can address outpatient queries, allowing hospitals to address those that are symptomatic and are critical. This helps avoid overcrowding at institutions providing medical care. “The process to advise patients through video conferencing by doctors will begin in three-four days. This is to ensure a lesser number of patients visit the hospital, unless it is unavoidable and using technology to reach a larger pool of patients in a shorter time,” said Dr Tarang Gianchandani, CEO, Sir HN Reliance Foundation Hospital. Global hospital in Mumbai, too, have asked all their patients to communicate via email (digital consultation) and expect a response in real-time. 

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