Since the beginning of the first lock down, many governments, e-pharmacies, hospitals, and even corporate have adopted telemedicine in their employee wellness regime. Telemedicine allows the registered medical practitioners like doctors to use consultations via telephone and it truly comes handy in these times of COVID-19 pandemic where hundreds of doctors have lost their lives due to insecure exposure to the fatal virus. To facilitate the telemedicine usage the government passed these guidelines –
The guidelines were issued by the ministry of health and family welfare (MoHFW) in collaboration with the- NITI Aayog and Board of Governors (BoG), Medical Council of India (MCI).
This has formulated a path for the widespread adoption of telemedicine both in the short and the long term. Further, these guidelines were passed also in the hope that it will provoke more people to consult with a verified doctor instead of self-medicating themselves and be able to do it affordably. This, in turn, will especially help all the Tier-2 cities and rural areas of the country where health care infrastructure is lacking and people travel hundreds of km’s to reach respective test centers.
Telemedicine is making a lot of progress across the world, with most countries and governments encouraging people to opt for e-consultation with doctors via phone call, a video call or chat before going to a hospital. Considering a country like India, where there is a demand-supply gap in the number of doctors available to the massive population, telemedicine could be the way forward in this COVID-19 pandemic. A rapid surge in usage of Telemedicine helps in load balancing and increasing doctor and physicians supply in worst-hit areas. Also, health systems and policymakers can maximize workforce potential by using quarantined physicians to provide virtual care to their patients.
Rapid surge in the usage of Practo
Founded in the year 2007, Practo is one of the earliest digital health care platforms available in the country that currently offers online consultation with doctors, medicine delivery, and pre-booked appointments to the test centers. For an easy online consultation, the user can enter their symptoms and get matched with a qualified doctor. Also, they have an option to choose the doctors of their choice. In late 2018, the startup also ventured into providing medical insurance services.
Since the onset of lock down in March, Practo has been witnessing the surge in its usage since the beginning of March. According to Dr.Alexander Kuruvilla, Chief Health Strategy Officer, Practo the teleconsultations have been growing at an average of over 100 per cent every week. Also, there is almost a 50 per cent increase in the number of doctors who have joined Practo. And the queries regarding cold, fever, cough, sore throat and body ache have increased by nearly 200 per cent. Catering to the easy usability interface of the app and easy availability of doctors more and more people across the country have started using this app.
Also looking at the growing number of telemedicine platforms in the country, Dr Alexander Kuruvilla shared various measures to ensure the safety and security If all doctors and patients. According to him, a strong verification process is very crucial to understand if the doctors appointed are genuine or not with both MBBS and specialty degree as a mandatory measure.He further added that doctors and physicians should only partner with platforms which follow strict guidelines and have strict quality standards along with getting the case history documented is also important to keep the data secure. Also, the privacy of all the patients should be maintained well.
Practo’s response to COVID-19 pandemic
Practo has witnessed a tremendous surge in its business during the COVID-19 pandemic. Practo’s online consultation services are witnessing an average spike of 16% week-on-week, which was growing at 20% per cent a month, some time ago. Most queries that the doctors receive are related to symptoms of COVID-19 such as cold, fever, cough and sore throat mostly for which people used to self medicate previously. There is also an abrupt increase in online queries for Gynecology, which increased by more than 250 per cent since the COVID-19 outbreak. Every general physician available on Practo app typically consults about 25-30 patients per day. But throughout April and May, the number of consultation queries on Practo has increased significantly. On this digital platform, the users can share their reports, make voice and video calls and get access to a doctor in a short span of 60 seconds. To capture this huge opportunity, Practo has revived its operating model tremendously in the last one month. Two major changes have been made in Practo’s user interface as mentioned ahead.
Introduction of Artificial intelligence
In a matter of almost four weeks, Practo has developed an ‘Artificial Intelligence’ tool that collects all the basic information from patients. This is done by giving them a set of questions to ascertain their health, symptoms, and age respectively. The tool also leverages all WHO protocols to profile high-risk people by taking their contact and travel history. This specific tool is highly beneficial as it allows a doctor to consult with a large number of patients in a small amount of time which is very critical to stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus. As the tool gets revamped and trained with more data, Practo hopes the tool will reach a state of minimal human intervention or advisory.
Increased doctor base
To meet the surge in consultation demands, Practo has increased its doctor base by close to 50% in a month so that the platform can handle increased traffic or consultation requests. Practo has also created a new database of more doctors and hospitals that will be added to the platform over the span of the next few months. Over these months Practo has also introduced many digital services such as video conferences to enable the doctors to handle COVID-19 symptoms related online consultations effectively. The company has also created a mandatory task force of senior doctors who are exclusively recruited to train the fellow practitioners via video conferences to ensure very high-quality consultations.
Practo recently launched a monthly healthcare plan which offers access to patients for unlimited online doctor consultations for COVID-19 symptoms. The patient can easily consult with the doctors on the platform without worrying about fee payment every time. This plan was designed to encourage people to consult with doctors and not self-medicate at home or ignore the virus symptoms. The app also launched ‘India Health Hour’ digital initiative to provide free consultation hours to every Indian for an hour through the app. By this crucial initiative, the doctors get the opportunity to volunteer to provide free service to the nation in general.
Also, at the end of March, Practo announced its collaboration with Thyrocare, which is a diagnostic laboratory authorized by Govt. of India, to conduct COVID-19 detection tests. Once a person books the test through the app or the website, then a verified volunteer collects samples from the patient’s home, and the patient is not required to step out of home for any kind of testing. The report can be easily accessed by the patients on the Practo website or app in 24 to 48 hours after the sample collection.