In 1953, the doctor-population ratio in India was 1:6,300, meaning that for every one doctor there were 6,300 non-doctors – or to put it in another way, 6,300 potential patients. The World Health Organization has a recommended doctor population of 1:1,000. Thankfully, while the number of Indians has trebled since 1953, the number of doctors in India has multiplied 17 times, and India today has a healthy doctor-population ratio of 1:921.
Despite a healthy doctor-population ratio in India, many people living in smaller towns and rural communities in India do not have access to the best medical experts. Many of the finest doctors in India still practice in the largest Indian cities, meaning that rural communities and people living in smaller towns do not have easy access to the best doctors in India.
However, with the emergence of telemedicine, this dynamic is changing because the best doctors are being brought together with patients living in the remotest corners of India by the use of technology.
What Is telemedicine?
Patients visiting a telemedicine clinic are brought face-to-face with medical experts across India through a laptop that allows patients and doctors to see one another.
A telemedicine clinic is never unmanned. At all times there are present in such a clinic a doctor and/or nurse. What a telemedicine clinic does is bring patients in touch with doctors who are experts in their fields. This means that a top orthopaedist in New Delhi can offer his services to a patient in a small UP town that is lacking the services of an expert orthopaedist. Furthermore, much of the complexity of a procedure such as a knee replacement is easily eliminated using telemedicine.
For instance, telemedicine simplifies the interaction between doctor and patient because a patient hoping for a successful knee replacement doesn’t need to travel to a large metro searching for a qualified orthopaedist. Instead of travelling to a metro and visiting a number of hospitals and doctors, the patient can be directly connected to a reputed orthopaedist in New Delhi, and only once all the arrangements have been made does the patient need to travel to New Delhi for a knee surgery. Furthermore, once back in their hometown, the patient need not make follow-up visits to the doctor in New Delhi; instead, the post-surgery follow-ups are performed in the telemedicine clinic itself.
Bringing doctors and patients together
India has a wealth of medical expertise, yet it also one of the largest countries in the world in terms of both area and population. This means that today there are tens of millions of Indians living in remote corners of the country who don’t have access to some of the basic amenities city dwellers take for granted. Conversely, there are also many Indians living in the largest cities who don’t have access to life’s most basic amenities. Overcoming such challenges requires the adoption of technologies that bring both people and facilitators together.
Using telemedicine, the finest doctors in India can effectively offer their services to patients living hundreds, if not thousands, of kilometres away. What makes telemedicine all the more efficient is that based on well-documented research, nearly 70 percent of outpatients do not need to be physically present in front of a doctor in order to be accurately diagnosed. This means that a patient suffering an ailment in a remote corner of Karnataka can be diagnosed by a trained physician in New Delhi without ever leaving his/her hometown.
An optimum use of valuable human resources
Some of the best doctors in the world are of Indian origin. When it comes to producing quality talent in all disciplines, India is second to none – however, the optimum use of human resources may yet need to be mastered. A key reason for the poor management of human resources is the sheer vastness of India, which leads the most talented to migrate to the largest cities where even today much of the commerce and innovation is centred. Thankfully, telemedicine enables doctors to examine patients anywhere in the country. By leveraging a vast number of expert doctors in India to aid a large number of people in the country, telemedicine bridges the existing gaps in India that make physical distance a hindrance to accessing quality medical care.
Get the most out of a single visit
Sceptics who believe that telemedicine may not be as effective in treating patients as traditional face-to-face interaction need to think again. According to reliable statistics, only 15-16 percent of patients who were treated via telemedicine found it necessary to visit a hospital for further treatment. This clearly indicates the effectiveness of telemedicine in treating patients as nearly 85 percent of patients who received a consultation with a doctor remotely didn’t need to visit a hospital after their first teleconsultation. In essence, it means that 85 percent of patients who visited a telemedicine clinic had their ailments satisfactorily resolved during their first telemedicine consultation.
In a country like India, with its masses of talented people but an as-yet underdeveloped physical infrastructure, telemedicine provides an opportunity to leapfrog many of the challenges faced by existing deficiencies in physical infrastructure.
Perhaps telemedicine even points to a new medical service delivery model for developing countries, with India as its pioneer and world leader. For instance, similar services can quite easily be offered in Africa and the Middle East as both are regions that face an acute shortage of high-quality physicians.