Amit Munjal

Amit Munjal is cofounder and CEO of Doctor Insta and has been at helm of affairs since its inception. During 15 years working in Investment Banking and Management Consulting, Amit has served as Senior Vice President of Investments at Bank of America-Merrill Lynch, with prior stints at Deloitte Consulting, Johnson Center of Entrepreneurship & Innovation, and the Kauffman Foundation.

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We Don’t Have Enough Doctors in Rural India. That’s Why We Need Telemedicine.

70% of India’s population live in rural areas and 3% of the doctor population live in rural areas. That’s why we need telemedicine - so that the majority of India can have access to basic healthcare.

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Considering the rising cost of healthcare services in the country, telemedicine which offers remote diagnosis, monitoring and treatment of patients via videoconferencing or Internet has the potential to address the widening gap among the urban and rural population.

In the existing healthcare system, there is a pertinent problem pertaining to doctor availability and access to healthcare – People commonly complain of having difficulty in taking time off to visit their primary care doctor. Besides this, shortage of doctors in rural areas as compared to urban areas leads to considerable travel expenditures of rural patients. For instance, WHO has prescribed a 1:1000 doctor patient ratio, but this ratio in India is about 1:2000. Rural India has one-fourth the doctors as compared to urban areas. This is a huge issue with the chronically ill, who require complex and expensive long-term monitoring and treatment strategies. Telemedicine offers best solutions to address these shortcomings in the existing healthcare system.

Although the honorable Prime Minister and the Indian government strongly support telemedicine, independent research studies show that 70 percent of OPD cases do not require any in-person visit, yet people in India may feel the need of going to OPD. Slowly and steadily people are accepting this fact and soon with increasing Internet/smartphone penetration and lower data costs, telemedicine will disrupt the status quo of Indian healthcare system.

As India’s masses increase in affluence and awareness, they are demanding access to better health care. But the supply of conventionally-delivered health care services cannot hope to keep up with the ever-increasing demand. India is home to about 600,000 villages, 70 percent of India’s population live in rural areas and a significant percentage of that population lacks access to healthcare. The new age digital tools have shown a ray of hope in providing scalable solutions. In a country that has just 3 percent of its physicians living in rural areas and 25 percent in semi-urban areas, telemedicine has become an innovative solution to serve a population lacking access to medical care.

In India, services of a specialist are not only accessible, but also affordable to both urban and rural India. Indians have a high willingness to pay for quality healthcare diagnostics that are reasonably affordable. Telemedicine is an upcoming field in health science arising out of the effective fusion of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) with Medical Science. It has enormous potential to meet the challenges of delivering healthcare to rural and remote areas besides several other applications in education, training and health sector management.

For any government, ensuring that all citizens have access to quality healthcare is a fundamental responsibility and an essential economic function. Healthcare must be accessible, affordable, and responsive, both to the constantly changing medical and clinical needs of patients as well as to the broader demographic, social, and cultural shifts that typify the modern world. Telemedicine innovations join voice, video, medicinal information, and cooperation instruments, to encourage a patient to see a specialist, without travelling long distances. They empower patients, suppliers, and unified wellbeing specialists to meet up on a typical stage and work together progressively.

While rural India is still grappling with lack of basic healthcare, telecommunication infrastructure in the country has seen remarkable progress. Access to broadband internet connectivity in rural areas is steadily increasing and the adoption and penetration of internet has shown tremendous growth. The advances in medical science and IT offer wide opportunities for improved healthcare. The Internet will play a pivotal role in providing a cost-effective healthcare to a widely dispersed population.

Sustained efforts from both the Government and private sector help create uniformity in healthcare availability. To capitalize on technology investments now and in the future, rural hospitals need an integrated IT network that helps diverse entities to collaborate and communicate effectively.

Over the last few years, the government, NGOs and a few private companies have tried to crack the technology barrier and provide affordable and specialized health care via Telemedicine.

India has the cheapest mobile services as compared to any country across the globe. 3G is already available across much of India; the never ending war to capitalise on the 3G and 4G spectrum purchased by the mobile carriers will go on. This is all good news for consumers and health care providers.

The growth of a sustainable telemedicine network in India depends upon introduction of legal frameworks, development of national e-health policies, trained human resource and regular funding. Improved access to specialists, increased patient satisfaction with care, improved clinical outcomes, reduction in emergency room utilization, cost savings are certain key benefits of telemedicine.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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