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Telemedicine's Impact: Affordable, Accessible Healthcare

The Power of Telemedicine: Making Healthcare Accessible and Affordable

As healthcare costs continue to rise worldwide, telemedicine has emerged as a cost-effective solution for improving healthcare accessibility and affordability. In this webinar we will explore the latest advancements and trends in telemedicine with Dr. Lavanya Aribandi, an MD certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine and the Chief Medical Officer of ekincare.

In this webinar, she will be discussing the current state of telemedicine in India and around the world, its benefits and limitations, and how it can be utilized to improve healthcare outcomes while reducing costs.

How has telemedicine evolved and scaled up during post COVID pandemic, and what impact has it had on the healthcare industry and patient care?

Telemedicine was really not new for us doctors and patients. We have been delivering consultations and advice over the phone to our patients since the beginning of the 19th century. However, there was no structure to it, and we were only delivering advice to family members or acquaintances, limited to a certain set of patients. But in recent decades, telemedicine has really evolved with the use of telecommunications and information technology. Tele-consultations have gained more structure, more efficiency, and now, especially in the beginning of 2020 when the COVID started, the Government of India encouraged and recommended all registered medical practitioners to deliver tele-consultations. That was a big encouragement and a big boost.

Before 2020, there was a lack of champions in the field of telemedicine, and patients were not utilizing it much. However, a big boost came during COVID time. After that, so much benefit has come with these steady consultations during the pandemic. The spread of disease could be limited because people were not crowding the doctor's offices. Both physicians and patients were able to connect in a safe and efficient way. Now, I think a lot of people know about the consultations, and especially in the age group of 20 and 45, many people have already used telemedicine in some form.

How can telemedicine benefit employees in terms of reducing healthcare costs and increasing access to the healthcare ecosystem, especially given the impact of digitization on hybrid virtual and hybrid boarding environments?

Telemedicine is convenient because you can get a consultation from the comfort of your own home without having to travel long distances. You can even consult with specialists who may not be available in your area. This convenience factor can encourage you to seek medical help promptly and not postpone it due to a busy schedule. Additionally, telemedicine consultations are cost-effective as you save money on commuting and taking time off work.

During teleconsultations, everything is digitized and recorded, making it easy to maintain continuity of care. All records are encrypted and preserved, so there is less risk of losing them. This also makes follow-up appointments easier to manage. Safety is another factor to consider, especially during epidemics or flu seasons when teleconsultations can help prevent the spread of infection.

Telemedicine is not just for you, but for your family members as well. Employees can use telemedicine to replace doctor visits for their kids, spouses, and parents. Follow-up appointments are also more likely to be kept, especially for conditions like diabetes and hypertension.

In our practice, we have observed that telemedicine has helped patients keep up with their follow-up appointments, leading to better continuity of care and ultimately better health outcomes.

How can telemedicine be utilized by employers to manage and promote it within their ecosystem?

When considering the age group of employees, typically ranging from 23 to 50, it's important to note that employers often only provide reactive insurance coverage for hospitalization when illness or injury occurs. However, there is a growing interest in proactive healthcare solutions, particularly outpatient care, which can replace traditional hospital visits with early consultations to save costs and increase convenience and accessibility for employees.

This age group often experiences common conditions such as stomach aches, minor infections, skin care, and reproductive health concerns like preconception, obstetric, and postpartum care. Additionally, lifestyle-related issues such as hypertension and weight gain can lead to serious long-term medical issues if not addressed early on.

Telemedicine provides an excellent solution to these healthcare needs by offering timely medical advice, health education, and counseling, all from the comfort of one's home. Unlike traditional doctor visits, teleconsultations provide dedicated appointment times, more comprehensive care with health coaches and nutritionists, and can even incorporate occupational health centers for nurse-led consultations with remote doctors.

In addition to physical health concerns, telemedicine also offers vital mental health support for employees, which has become increasingly important in light of the pandemic. Conditions such as depression, anxiety, and subclinical mental health issues can be addressed with remote psychological counseling. Dermatological and occupational health concerns can also be effectively managed with teleconsultations, especially for night shift workers who may otherwise only have the option of emergency room visits.

Overall, promoting telemedicine for employees has numerous benefits, including preventing long-term complications, increasing productivity, reducing absenteeism, and promoting overall well-being for employees and their families.

What are the potential challenges and current scenarios that are hindering the adoption of telemedicine and mediation in the future?

Currently, there are still individuals who prefer visiting a hospital and interacting face-to-face with their doctor. This preference for in-person consultations may be attributed to the long-standing culture of building a personal connection with one's doctor or having a family doctor. Despite the benefits of telemedicine, this preference poses a challenge to its widespread adoption.

One limiting factor for teleconsultations is the lack of personal touch or long-term connection between doctor and patient. In-person consultations allow for visual and audio cues that facilitate rapport-building, trust, and identification of the patient. When relying solely on audio or video consultations, these factors may decline, leading to suboptimal doctor-patient relationships. To mitigate this, it is important to establish continuity of care and maintain frequent touchpoints with the teleconsultation provider. Telemedicine should not be perceived as a one-stop solution for acute or chronic needs but as a complement to in-person consultations.

Moreover, there are certain limitations to teleconsultations, such as guidelines prohibiting the prescription of certain medications, which may lead to patient dissatisfaction. Doctors should recognize and acknowledge these limitations and refer patients to clinics when necessary for physical examination. In emergency scenarios, doctors can still provide valuable advice, such as recommending taking aspirin before rushing to the hospital.

Teleconsultations have numerous advantages, but they should be complemented by in-person consultations for continuity of care and patient satisfaction. Doctors and patients should recognize the limitations of teleconsultations and use them appropriately.

What is your opinion on the role played by the community in promoting and marketing healthcare or telemedicine systems, as well as providing their employees with the best wellness benefit programs from a corporate perspective?

Leaders serve as gatekeepers for all employee information today. With so much available, it's crucial that leaders play a key role in curating content and providing valuable services to their employees. While there are many disjointed apps available today for teleconsultation, the key is to keep those services comprehensive and all in one place, utilizing after daily consultations the aggregate data to take further steps.

For example, leaders can analyze data to see if there are patterns, such as a high percentage of employees with pre-diabetes, and take action by implementing good management programs for those conditions. Utilizing the aggregate data meaningfully is one thing, and leaders can make a big difference in championing the use of teleconsultation.

When leaders promote and encourage the use of teleconsultation, employees are more likely to participate. By championing the teleconsultation movement, leaders can make a significant impact in promoting the use of telemedicine and other beneficial wellness programs to their employees.

How do you think we can bring back the personal touch and digitization of telemedicine in the future?

Another aspect we need to consider is the availability of different communication channels. Nowadays, many people, especially the younger generation, prefer chat consultations as it's more convenient for them. However, we must also provide a phone call option as it enables better communication and connection with the provider. 

Another way to maintain continuity of care is by having multiple touchpoints with the provider. Instead of going to different providers and having disjointed medical records across multiple apps, it's better to have all your medical information within one company as a group, so all providers have access to your medical history. It's also important to keep up with follow-ups to update the doctor on your condition's progress and prevent further occurrences. Telemedicine plays a significant role in acute care and improving health outcomes, but it's equally important to provide health education and coaching to prevent future health issues.

Do you have any closing remarks or final thoughts to share before we end this conversation?

In my opinion, Teleconsultations are likely here to stay. The key issue is when we will start using them, whether it's pre or post-COVID. We have observed a significant acceptance of teleconsultations by people. I would like to see more people utilizing this service while understanding its limitations. Both providers and patients must understand that certain things cannot be achieved through teleconsultation. However, we can expect good things to happen with telemedicine across the world. Healthcare costs are soaring, particularly in Western countries, where the realization has come rather late. Fortunately, India is ahead of the curve, as healthcare costs are comparatively lower here. By leveraging these technologies, we can keep costs in check and even improve healthcare outcomes.

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Dr Lavanya Aribandi is the current Chief Medical Officer at ekincare. With 20+ years of experience in Internal Medicine, she is MBBS & MD certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine.