Mainstreaming telemedicine is believed to be the much needed and most transformative change required in the health care system especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic without compromising on quality of care and outcomes.
Considering this, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation's (BMC) G (South) ward (Worli, Prabhadevi, Elphinstone) has set up a 'Telemedicine COVID care' at Podar Hospital in Worli on a pilot basis.
"We have launched a Telemedicine COVID Care center on June 24, as it is the need of the hour. The facility is currently started only at the Podar Hospital's isolation centre. It has been just four days since we set it up. It will be too early for us to say how helpful it is or whether we have decided to replicate the same in other areas. We will monitor how it's working before deciding on our further course of action. The one started at Podar Hospital is a pilot project and in a very initial stage. It's a joint effort by BMC IT team, Price Water Cooper (PWC) consultants and CISCO," Sharad Ughade, Assistant Municipal Corporation of G (South) ward told The Free Press Journal.
The hardware and software for the facility will be provided by CISCO health care. He added, "Currently, two to three doctors are helping us with the system. They are providing consultations for one hour each. We are looking forward to tie up with more registered practitioners soon including diabetologists, ENT, general physicians and other specialists."
MLA of worli constituency and minister of Tourism, Environment and Climate change Aaditya Thackeray took to twitter to announce the launch of telemedicine covid care at Podar Hospital. He tweeted: "This afternoon we launched Telemedicine covid care at Poddar Hospital, Worli. This facility and hardware committed by @Cisco will enable doctors to remote monitor patients in isolation wards, with least chances of infection. If this works well, this model can be replicated."
The Board of Governors in supersession of the Medical Council of India (MCI) issued Telemedicine Practice Guidelines on March 25 to strengthen delivery in a post-COVID-19 world, with a focus on Health and Wellness Centres (HWCs) that provide preventive and primary healthcare within a 5 km radius at the grassroots level.
The guidelinesthat has been prepared in partnership with NITI Aayog will enable registered Medical Practitioners to provide healthcare using telemedicine systems. The modes of communication in Telemedicine includes simple mobile telephone as well as two-way video communications, using WhatsApp, Skype and Google Duo, according to an official communication.
While many private practitioners have already started embracing the system, this is the first time telemedicine is being adopted at the BMC ward level. "Technology platforms were something available and being used, but were not regulated, which exposed both patients and providers to challenges. These MCI guidelines provide proper guidance material for reference. Telemedicine is being used by doctors to connect with patients, and by mid-level providers/health workers to connect patients with doctors without patients having to physically visit a hospital or clinic. Giving this a further thought telemedicine can be used at isolation centres where COVID-19 suspects or COVID-19 patients are admitted. If this works, we can replicate this across the city," said a senior BMC official.
Telemedicine has already helped decongest AIIMS, Delhi, which moved its out-patient department services online from April 8 to enable patients access treatment and care during the lockdown. Similarly, many health care providers in Kerala too embraced the telemedicine systems.The Kerala state government in April set up telemedicine services for Keralites stranded in the Gulf during the COVID-19 crisis.
Specialist doctors in a range of disciplines, from general medicine and pediatrics to ophthalmology and ENT, can be contacted during a given window of timeline through video calls or voice messages. Worldwide COVID-19 has caused millions of people to try telemedicine for the first time. "Telemedicine will continue to grow rapidly. Enforced habits of today will become the new normal. According to me, the health care system will never again be the same even after a coronavirus crisis ends. Gradually preferences of today during the crisis will switch to a default mode. More and more patients might want to opt for telemedicine rather than wasting time in travelling for the physical consultations. Telemedicine Society of India was started 18 years ago, however, the COVID-19 outbreak accelerated the process and promoted it further," the official added.
As per the MCI guidelines on Telemedicine, can prescriptions be given remotely? The recently notified Telemedicine Practice Guidelines enables Registered Medical Practitioners to send prescriptions electronically. There are several in built safety methods to prevent abuse of the system. Pharmacists have to dispense from a digital screen with the doctor’s registration no and fascmile of the signature.
In 1970, a telemedicine link was established between Mass General Hospital Boston and the Logan Airport in Boston. In India formal telemedicine commenced on March 24, 2000 when Bill Clinton commissioned the world’s first VSAT (ISRO supplied)-enabled village hospital at Aragonda, the birthplace of P.C. Reddy, chairman, Apollo Hospitals.