Tele-healthcare and its significance

Assimilation of technology has played a vital role in the healthcare sector. Due to the role of technology in healthcare, schemes and policies under the government’s Ayushman Bharat mission have been revolutionary in expanding the accessibility of proper healthcare to citizens all over India. To mark the Ayushman Bharat Health and Wellness Centres (AB-HWCs) in particular, the Union Health Ministry has planned to organise week-long celebrations under "Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav" from April 16 to April 22 to mark its fourth anniversary.

The onset of the pandemic has led to digitisation across sectors and industries, with health and wellness being one of the primary areas to have undergone this change. In this regard, teleconsultation services have been a massive addition. Of the 1.17 lakh health and wellness centres in the country, over 1 lakh are to add teleconsultation services to their list of organisation services. This will further enable wider cost-effective access to medical consultation distantly and improve access to healthcare. The success of e-Sanjeevani under the Ayushman Bharat scheme has helped aid the adoption of teleconsultation in health and wellness facilities as it has made healthcare available and affordable for all, as over 3 crore teleconsultations took place under the scheme. People in several states were quick to recognise the benefits of e-Sanjeevani, resulting in a promising trend of widespread adoption of this digital mode of accessing health services. Patients use this unique digital channel to access health services regularly, allowing them to consult with doctors and specialists. Teleconsultation services are extremely important for people living in rural places and aid in spreading awareness and making healthcare services accessible to all. Moreover, women and girls in rural areas who at times feel uneasy or unable to approach a doctor for consultation can now do so from the comfort of their homes.

In order to further extend health and wellness services beyond teleconsultation, the government aims to set up health melas at AB-HWCs beginning April 18. These melas will be day long and present in at least one block in every district to spread awareness about the 'Ayushman Bharat' initiative and provide services like consultation, testing, and treatment regarding reproductive health, children related healthcare services, screening for illnesses like diabetes, hypertension, and counselling for alcohol and drug-related addiction/abuse and mental health, while also provide the option of a general check-up and information on suitable yoga and meditation practices.

Furthermore, in India technology integration in the healthcare sector has taken several forms. Telemedicine services, for instance, are quickly becoming a valuable asset, with significant impacts on the safety of healthcare practitioners and far-reaching benefits for the entire healthcare delivery system. The introduction of the National Health Digital Mission, which includes telemedicine, a unique health ID, and electronic health and medical records, has supported this by synergizing and increasing salience across all e-platforms. Telemedicine is increasingly important in the field of medicine, particularly in non-urgent or team care settings. This saves resources, increases access to care, and minimises the danger of infectious agent transmission. Plus, specialised ways can be used to remotely identify patients who may require additional care.

Telepsychiatry for mental health is another example, as during the pandemic people increasingly relied on teleconsultations from counsellors and psychologists around the world via face-to-face sessions from the convenience of their homes. As stress and anxiety rose during the pandemic, the availability of 24*7 affordable counselling services proved to be a saviour for people.

Along with chronic lifestyle diseases, nutritional deficiencies, and an ageing population, e-health services in India are extremely advantageous since they provide easy access to low-cost treatment alternatives. Technology-driven healthcare and home care have become increasingly important in healthcare delivery across the country, proving to be more economical and accessible to individuals who might otherwise be unable to receive proper medical care. For a country that has long faced barriers to accessing good treatment, medical technology and innovation have the potential to bring about long-term solutions to our people's increasing health concerns while also enhancing patient experience and results.

This has been co-authored by Devika Chawla and Bhamini Rathore.