Telemedicine: A way forward post the COVID-19 pandemic

Chandigarh, July 22, 2020: Non communicable diseases (NCDs), which are responsible for 72% deaths globally and more than 60% deaths in India, has been an aggravating factor for the adverse outcomes of the COVID-19.

Reports suggest that the Coronavirus pandemic is likely to aggravate India’s NCD burden.

During India’s COVID-19 lock-down and subsequently as social distancing measures are being put in place, healthcare services in India have been disrupted due to the unavailability of the OPDs, closure of many health facilities and reluctance of patients to seek treatment.

In the midst of this disruption of chronic care, telemedicine has been gaining ground as an important solution.

As per a World Health Organization (WHO) definition, telemedicine is ‘the delivery of health care services where distance is a critical factor’.

Dr Areet Kaur, State Programme Officer Health and Wellness Centres (HWCs) Punjab said, “Tand rust Punjab HWCs are playing an immense role in delivering health care services at the door step of the community and in this regard CHOs are forefront healthcare providers. HWCs are not only providing screening facilities for NCDs but also utilizing robust IT systems via

telemedicine consulting doctors at telemedicine hubs and generating e-prescriptions for initiating treatment & dispensing medicines free of cost at the HWC itself”.

“Most of the people are unaware of their blood pressure status. Screening of the population 30 years or above for hypertension is being facilitated by CHOs at HWCs and treatment can be initiated via con-sulting doctors at telemedicine hubs set up at Mohali. It is a comprehen-sive initiative of the Govt of Punjab in providing accessible, affordable and equitable health care facilities to the community during COVID emergency,” she noted further.

“The COVID pandemic has changed the way health care facili-ties were provided in the past as well as the patient-doctor interac-tions. With inadequate health care providers and limited health care resources to deal with the pandemic, telemedicine proved to be a platform to provide medical services in the lockdown situation,” said Dr Sonu Goel, Professor, Department of Community Medicine and School of Public Health, PGIMER, Chandigarh.

He added, “Telemedicine was adopted to communicate, counsel, and provide treatment via the virtual interface. NITI Aayog has devel-oped new guidelines released on March 25, 2020, to deliver consulta-tions to patients via telemedicine”.

Telemedicine training is given to the Community Health Officers posted at HWCs of Punjab before COVID spread is a timely benefit to the community.

People are unable to visit doctors due to travel restrictions and fear of disease.

In these difficult times, HWCs are of great benefit to the rural people where access to clinical services is hampered.

Adopting telemedicine as an alter-native mode of clinical consultation and can help minimize the risk by reducing the personal interactions. A 30-year-old woman, T. Kaur,

who came to the health and wellness centre at Raipur, district Mansa seeking consultation for breathless-ness while performing household chores and headache was screened by Davinder Singh, Community Health Officer (CHO), Raipur.

During screening the patient was found to be hypertensive.

CHO consulted a Specialist Doctor at Telemedicine hub through a telemedicine facility. Consultation and prescription were given by the doctor sitting in the hub and that facilitated treatment of the patient at HWC itself.

When this patient was approached telephonically for his views on telemedicine facility provision of state Govt. in his village, he said, “I am very happy with the facility being provided in my village. I was

not aware that I am suffering from raised blood pressure before I came to HWC for regular check-up.

Health Care provider in my village contacted specialists through tech-nology and my treatment and med-ication started at HWC. I am happy this facility saved my visit to hospi-tal, saved my time and money. I am thankful to the Govt for this provi-sion.”

“Telemedicine has been a boon for all healthcare providers and people during COVID-19 pandemic. It will now be a new normal way of con-sultation with doctors, even after the pandemic subsides. This will essen-tially strengthen the Health Care System in India, in boosting per-formance, reducing out of pocket expenditure, travel, time and load on secondary and tertiary care facili-ties,” said Dr Rakesh Gupta, Director of Public Health, Strategic Institute for Public Health Education and Research (SIPHER).

He informed that the SIPHER along with PGI Chandigarh has been providing technical support to telemedicine initiative taken up by Punjab government under the expansion of ongoing project “Strengthening of Management of Hypertension Services in Punjab.

WHO also recommended telemed-icine as one of the alternative mod-els to boost clinical performance and support decisions in the context of optimising service delivery.

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