It is not a new statement when I say that COVID-19 has changed our world forever. And even now, with India going through its most challenging phase in the whole pandemic, medical services are at their breaking point. There is an acute shortage of not only equipment but staff, too. Doctors are suffering as much as the patients, and they are doing an admirable job of it. Herein comes Teleconsultation.
Simply put, it is consultation over call, email, video call or any other form of electronic communication. A few decades ago, this must have been a thing of fantasy. However, having witnessed how technology helped with being connected over the pandemic, Teleconsultation and Telemedicine is no longer Sci-Fi.
Basics of Teleconsultation
Hofmair et al, in their 2019 study describe how teleconsultation can be used. In their study, they took the case of respiratory allergies. Basing their argument on stronger, more reliable internet connections and data speeds, they argued that telemedicine will make the whole experience more efficient for both patients and doctors.
Mizani, in their 2017 study, discussed cloud-based computing in Teleconsultation. This implies that the current information and telecommunications infrastructure is more than capable enough to support real-time medical support over large distances.
So basically, teleconsultation comes down to being in touch with a doctor without having to pay them a visit in person. It also broadens into Telepresence – when the doctor can participate more in the treatment. An example of Telepresence is remote operations, where a surgeon can control a robot remotely to perform a surgery.
How can Teleconsultation Help?
Right now, across the world, COVID-19 is rebounding rapidly. India is the worst-hit country at the moment, and is reporting record-high surges daily. This situation makes the importance and utility of Teleconsultation all the more apparent.
First, with increasing stress on hospitals and medical facilities, Teleconsultation allows the doctors to attend to their patients without having a crowd in front of them to deal with. Consequently, this allows the medical professionals to be more efficient with their time and handle more patients that need help.
Second, self-isolation and social distancing are very important to slow down the spread of the virus. As such, hospitals and clinics can become hotspots for the disease fast. But, with Teleconsultation, patients don’t have to come in, and that can reduce the load on hospitals as a consequence, allowing them to focus their resources on a priority basis.
Third, the technology available can allow medical support to reach in remote places. Of course there are places which are remote and far-flung, with the closest doctor miles away. Such places can benefit from the improved connectivity and wider cellular coverage facilitating Teleconsultation.
There are numerous other examples where, especially in this pandemic, this practice can help both patients and doctors. However, the initiative right now lies with the doctors and the patients, and there are no government initiatives.
Supporting Teleconsultation via Infrastructure
Of course, there are apps that allow you to make appointments. But there are no apps that allow for a direct doctor-to-patient interaction. This is what I was talking about when I said that the initiative lies with the doctors still. If the doctor has time on their hands, they can help via Zoom or Google Meet, or even WhatsApp.
Right now, Fortis Hospital has a teleconsulting service, which is its own initiative. No doubt there are doctors giving advice in WhatsApp groups and to their acquaintances, however, it is not a joint effort that can help people on a tangible level. That is where the government initiatives come in. There is the Aarogya Setu app, but apart from that, nothing much.
Telecom in India is one of the largest of its kind in the world. With almost a billion mobile users, the telecom infrastructure is very well established and the connectivity has only improved over the last few years. Therefore, using this infrastructure for Teleconsultation and Telemedicine is not as long of a shot as it seems.
The Future of Medicine
Teleconsulting is one of the most promising developments in medicine. 5G is on the horizon, and the world is moving on to satellite broadband, with speeds in the gigabits per second region. The progress of telecom is proving to be a boon for many industries – smart manufacturing, IoT, automated vehicles; the list goes on.
We have the means, we need the initiative for Teleconsultation and Telemedicine as a whole to become the future of medicine.