By Dr. Haleema Yezdani, Mbbs,FICM,PGDM
Dr. Haleema Yezdani, Mbbs, FICM, PGDM, is a physician residing in Bengaluru, Karnataka, India with 20 years of experience in medicine. She has used telemedicine to treat patients for more than eight years. In India, telemedicine guidelines and technological advancements have helped guide this new work and allow care to continue amidst the pandemic. Dr. Haleema shares her experience with telemedicine during the COVID-19 pandemic.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, telemedicine use has accelerated rapidly, making healthcare accessible to remote patients during this challenging time. In India, telemedicine guidelines and technological advancements have helped guide this new work and allow care to continue amidst the pandemic. These practices are necessary to keep populations healthy during times of social distancing.
As we have seen during the COVID-19 pandemic, the benefits of telemedicine are numerous. The medical practitioner is available almost immediately in synchronous telemedicine. Patients can can reside any distance from the provider, with enhanced technology making this easier than ever. Diagnosis and treatment can be sent to the patient almost immediately. A second opinion can be provided rapidly by an expert in the same field, allowing the patient and original provider to consider alternatives in a more efficient manner.
With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, other ailments and care were neglected as the virus took precedent and available resources. Entire populations deferred medical care for chronic ailments, testing, routine visits, etc. Many resorted to telemedicine to follow up on their chronic conditions, such as diabetes or hypertension. Providers were able to continue care through telehealth appointments, prescribing medicine through e-pharmacies and following up through patient portals.
The Medical Council of India (MCI) created Telemedicine Practice Guidelines in March 2020 to set out standards, norms, and procedures. The release of the guidelines has given a legal identity to the telemedicine practice in India. This will help medical professionals in India to impart their accumulated knowledge and resources to people in need of telemedicine services.
The guidelines were provided to practitioners, specifically those involved in telemedicine. Next, the Telemedicine Society of India created a short course to increase understanding and instruct implementing the guidelines in medical practices. The telemedicine guidelines helped our practice to become more streamlined, and documentation was legally protected.
The Indian government adopted the use of private telemedicine portals where patients completed self-registration in order to seek teleconsultation and to triage and treat COVID-19 patients. A dashboard was also provided to the doctor to conduct the audio and video consultation. The information is collected from the patient either through AI or customer service personnel. Due to the use of the portals, the patients in need of the most critical care were provided priority through this digital triage system, which avoided overcrowding at hospitals.
Technological advances such as digital stethoscopes, dermoscopes, tele-ICUs, and remote patient monitoring have overwhelmingly contributed to the success of telemedicine in India and across the globe. Telemedicine is evolving and I believe it will continue to benefit patients and healthcare professionals.