Will User Behavior Finally Change Regarding Telemedicine? In the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, policymakers are turning towards telemedicine as a critical part of ensuring that people have access to healthcare while reducing the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

By Rajat Garg

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The sudden onset of COVID-19 has brought healthcare infrastructure in the limelight. The hospitals are unable to fulfill the ever-increasing demand for consultations. OPDs and non-COVID related treatment have taken the backseat. The gaping hole in the availability of doctors for a medical consultation physically is now being fulfilled by telemedicine. Telemedicine technology was earlier scarcely used but now it has come into the spotlight after the lockdown announcement.

In the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, policymakers are turning towards telemedicine as a critical part of ensuring that people have access to healthcare while reducing the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

The Corona crisis has proved to be a challenge as well as an opportunity for the healthcare industry. Due to the higher risk of contracting Coronavirus in hospitals and clinics along with the restricted movement due to lockdown and quarantines, many people are preferring online doctor consultations and home delivery of medicines for proper healthcare.

It allows the benefits of face-to-face consultation and zero chances of transmission of the virus. myUpchar is one such healthcare startup that is offering teleconsultation services to help people get quality consultations at home.

A significant challenge to the adoption of telemedicine has been the lack of trust which exists due to limited exposure to online services as well as lack of willingness of doctors to conduct online consultation. It didn't help that several medical councils also banned such activity by doctors. This was done for reasons of ethics but under the hood, reasons were more economical in nature. In the pre-COVID era, people expected to visit the doctor and pay for the diagnosis performed. Also, the tier-II and -III population generally believed in physical checkup more than a virtual one.

However, due to COVID, people are relying more and more on online consultations. The telemedicine platforms have seen a 3x-4x increase in demand across the industry. At myUpchar, we believe that the critical step in the customer experience journey is the free trial. To garner customers' buy-in, the customer needs to experience the service first hand for themselves. And based on the fact that telemedicine addresses customer needs of quality and ease at affordable prices in a much better way than its substitutes, it can forever alter the customer behavior in favor of telemedicine.

Currently, the ground reality of the healthcare system in India is that we have several inferior quality clinics and quacks operating in every nook and corner. The lack of trained staff or required provisions in these health facilities can put the patient at risk. These practices are more common in tier-II and -III cities.

On the other hand, online consultations work in a very structured manner. The online players are working through standardized prescription writing, treatment algorithms, etc. The standardization being brought into practice by these online platforms will eventually build a strong pillar in the healthcare sector.

A step in the direction of progress for telemedicine would be support for diagnostic tools. The introduction of integrated hardware to perform diagnosis from home would go a long way in the development of telemedicine in India. The only gap that remains in telemedicine is the integrated hardware diagnostic devices that will allow the patients to diagnose ailments at home with doctor's online assistance. The need to visit hospitals and clinics would fall drastically with the use of integrated diagnostic devices.

The issuance of telemedicine guidelines has been the much-needed nudge from the government. In a matter of a few months, the Indian healthcare ecosystem has moved ahead by 10 years. The Corona pandemic has brought the opportunity to revamp and adopt the digital process and automation in healthcare. It will bring in the transparency, accessibility, and accountability which a patient needs.

Currently, people's willingness to pay for online services is considerably low compared to offline services. Since the doctors realize this behavior, they prefer offline consultations and drive people to their hospital or clinic for checkups. The Corona crisis has turned the tide in favor of online consultations. The only thing that remains to be addressed is that people need to realize that they pay for the doctor's time, be it online or offline, and telemedicine provides them an added benefit of ease.

The hospitals are packed with COVID-19 patients and people are afraid of visiting hospitals for the fear of getting infected. As people are turning towards online platforms, the doctors have also shifted their attention. As the users realize that 85-90 per cent of the cases do not require physical attention they'll move to telemedicine for good. We can expect platforms like myUpchar offering telemedicine services to flourish as there will be increased demand which can be fulfilled by working with the medical community, making sure their economic interests are also taken care of.

Rajat Garg

Co-founder, myUpchar

An alum of the Delhi College of Engineering and then Stanford University, Rajat has previously founded companies like Shimply and Social Apps HQ. Rajat’s greatest passion now is finding ways to take medicines and verified medical information to every corner of India.

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