So, let’s begin with some interesting numbers that seem to be omnipresent. Did you know that online medical consultations have shown an annual growth rate of 15% between the period of 2014-2019 and recently, a 500 % growth in just three months (1st March – 31st May 2020). This sharp spike has been seen due to COVID-19 imposing travel and movement restrictions among various others. These numbers may be a temporary change but are definitely posed to be a game-changer for most online healthcare players.
The impact predictions ( by various sources ) suggests that this new form of consulting is expected to grow at the rate of 21.1% between 2019 -2025. One of the leading online healthcare platforms shared that they recorded 44% tele-consultations from tier 2 and tier 3 cities in spite of 80% of users being new to it. Now this data specific to India, just re-confirms that the need rose because people across the country were looking for medical advice online rather than risking a visit to their physician. Let’s understand more about this new and next normal!
What were the reasons for the spike in online consultation?
The clock is always ticking on your healthcare, so pandemic or no pandemic you will still need a doctor for your medical concerns. And during these testing times, the only safe method of communicating with a doctor is through an online platform, hence this drastic shift actually makes sense. With abundant norms for “social distancing “ or the “stay home stay safe” mantra that the whole country has been chanting for the past couple of months, it became important for both doctors and patients to wake up to a new dawn, the dawn of staying connected remotely from our comfort spaces.
Contrary to what some may think this form of consultation has actually strengthened the doctor-patient relationship and not weakened it due to lack of “in-person” visits or the missing touch and feel doctor analysis.
This unprecedented public health emergency has also shown a direct impact on hospitals, healthcare facilities, medical transport, as health care workers and their families who are coping up by slowly trying to adapt to this new change. Apart from these, most doctors were reluctant to open up clinics; some were unwilling to see even asymptotic patients for other serious neurological or cardiology concerns due to unsafe environments or a foreseen infection scare for them and their families.
Meanwhile, medical workers, caregivers were also facing unexpected ostracism from their landlords and society members due to the deep-rooted baseless suspicion that they could be carriers of the virus and are putting others at risk. The working class has had its own share of challenges with the risk of getting infected at the workplace as well as difficulties due to the ban on public transportation options; all leading up to adopting the online medium as the only viable option as of now.
Bottom line, people who were not suffering from the virus seemed to be suffering from the unavailability of doctors, shortage of caregivers, physical/social distancing and lack of timely medical facilities or options for their loved ones.
During this pandemic phase, owing to various restrictions imposed during COVID-19 in healthcare, reports suggest that 36.5% of doctors have completely stopped their outpatient services, 63.5% of surgeons had a reduction in their services, and more than 50% of doctors have begun giving online consultations. Healthcare infrastructure units such as hospitals or clinics or even trains have been turned into isolation wards, so there is practically no scope for getting admitted for common disease or a severe one such as surgery. What do you do? This where the mindset has changed and patients are now trying to put their trust in remote consultations from experienced doctors rather than rushing to the hospitals thereby giving a wee bit of relief to our caregivers!
Medical categories/specialties such as gynecology, GP and dermatology showed a 51% increase in the overall online consultations which was comparatively higher than the previous years, followed by radiologists 39.5 %, psychiatrists 27.8 % and cardiologists’ 24.1 % amping up their consults.
During this global pandemic, telehealth has emerged as a sustainable and effective solution for precaution, prevention and treatment options to not only reduce the spread of COVID-19 but also a viable option for other chronic diseases. Here are the benefits of availing an online consultation:
Future of online medical consultation
Looking at another aspect of online consultations; As per the reports; in 2019 the global medical second opinion market size was USD 3975.2 million and it is expected to reach USD 14690 million by the end of 2026, with a CAGR of 20.3% during 2021-2026. There has been an upward surge in the online medical consultations but the lack of awareness among people and reluctance towards trusting an online source for their medical record sharing, making an online payment, etc., is still hindering the exponential market growth in emerging nations.
As more users turn towards digital platforms and access healthcare via a tablet, laptop, or other connected devices for expert advice with oncologists, cardiologists, and other specialists from distant locations, these numbers will continue to grow. It is not difficult to envision a future where health diagnosis across the world will be “on the go” with a limited number of hospitals and clinics catering to the diseases and symptoms that cannot be treated or advised online.
Credibility, convenience, security and benefits seem to be outweighing the current challenges of trust, in this new form of healthcare. The ” next normal ” looks promising in the long run!
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