Progress in telemedicine decreasing dependence on quacks | India Information – Instances of India
The WHO estimates that as many as 57.3% of the healthcare providers in India, who claim to be doctors, do not have a medical qualification. They are informal healthcare providers, or quacks. And they are present both in rural and urban settings but more in villages. According to a WHO report, while 60% of India’s population lives in rural areas, only 40% of healthcare providers work there giving people no option but to go to quacks.
However, with the rise of telemedicine in India – online consultations with doctors increased 300% in 2020 – people in rural areas can now access a qualified doctor. A report compiled by healthcare app Practo and not-for-profit Telemedicine Society of India, on growth of telemedicine in India in 2020 found that non-metros, including villages, registered 750% growth in telemedicine.
Dr Mukund Tawari a dentist practising in Mumbai said that this year he got many more patients from remote towns and villages. “With video consultations it has become easier for them to consult us. I got patients from villages in Rajasthan and Maharashtra on online consults. Most of them were for problems like toothache and first aid for broken teeth,” said Dr Tawari. The overall dentist population ratio in India is 1:10,000, but in rural areas one dentist is serving 2.5 lakhs of people, creating a fertile ground for breeding dental quackery.
“The prevalence of unqualified medical practitioners, especially in the rural setting, is very high and a digital healthcare policy has the potential to eradicate quackery, and provide awareness and accessibility to qualified specialist doctors to rural Indians,” the report noted.
While telemedicine started in India 20 years ago, tier 2 cities like Manjeri, Arrah, Balasore, Etah, Orai, Khopoli, Jagtial and Shivpuri used telemedicine for the first time in 2020.
The report also found that the elderly showed a greater acceptance for technology in the form of telemedicine. There was a 502% spike in online consultations from people above the age of 50 in this year.
Though 2020 proved to be a breakthrough year the history of telemedicine goes back to 1905 when a Dutch physician, Willem Einthoven, conducted long-distance ECGs over telephone wires. From 1920s-40s, physicians in Norway, Italy and France were doing radio consultations for patients aboard ships at sea and on remote islands.
In India, telemedicine was started by ISRO (Indian Space Research Organisation) in 2001. It linked Chennai’s Apollo hospital with the Apollo rural hospital in Aragonda village in Chittoor district of Andhra Pradesh. Over the years, ISRO’s telemedicine network has expanded to connect 45 remote and rural hospitals and 15 super specialty hospitals.
Due to lockdown and social distancing, and the fear of catching Covid-19, in-person doctor appointments reduced by 32% in 2020. However, visits to specialists like neurosurgeons and cardiologists, for conditions where telemedicine couldn’t work, grew four times more compared to last year.
People suffering from mental health issues also benefitted from telemedicine. There was a 302% spike in overall mental health-related queries. Non-metro cities registered a 375% growth in online mental health queries. Psychiatry emerged as one of the top specialties consulted during late-night hours.