Apollo Telehealth, the telemedicine division of India's largest private healthcare chain Apollo Hospitals, expects 50 percent of its outpatient department (OPD) consultations to go virtual in three years.
“At present, 15 percent OPD consultations are so. Our plan is to make it 50 percent," said Vikram Thaploo, Chief Executive Officer, TeleHealth, Apollo Hospitals, in an interview to Moneycontrol.
"Look at leading US healthcare provider Kaiser Permanente. They are already doing 70-75 percent OPD consultations virtually; ten years back, it was 25 percent," Thaploo said.
Telemedicine allows healthcare professionals to evaluate, diagnose and treat patients using telecommunications technology – from phone calls to video, chat platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Mobile App, Skype, email and fax.
One of the major reasons for the tepid response towards it in India has been the lack of clarity over informed consent. The ground has now been cleared, with the government releasing the Telemedicine Practice Guidelines in March, just weeks after the country was hit by COVID-19.
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As per the guidelines, if a patient initiates telemedicine consultation, consent is implied. These guidelines have been in the making for 10 years, Thaploo said.
“While people were aware about the power of telemedicine, the avalanche effect came only because of COVID-19," he said.
Apollo, which was carrying out 10,000-plus teleconsultations per day during pre-COVID-19 days, has seen a jump of 300 percent. In fact, Apollo Hospitals, which had to scale down its non-emergency OPD operations due to COVID-19, managed to stem the tide by offering virtual services.
Thaploo says there isn't much difference in the pricing of physical and virtual consultation.
Apollo Telehealth has 1,000 dedicated doctors for virtual consultations. The division also runs point-of-care centres to deliver healthcare services across Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand and other states as part of Public-Private Partnerships, in addition to providing consultation to corporates.
Apollo TeleHealth Foundation has launched a toll-free call service, Sanjeevani Telehealth Seva, for non-COVID patients in Bhopal and Indore as many hospitals have suspended OPDs.
Apollo has floated Apollo 24|7, an end-to-end omni-channel healthcare platform, to enable users from any part of the country to avail Apollo services over phone.
The platform currently offers a full bouquet of services such 24x7 consultation with Apollo doctors pan-India and across 55 specialities, medicine delivery at home, diagnostic test booking, doorstep sample collection, digital health records and more.
Thaploo says Apollo 24|7 plans be an aggregator by including doctors from even non-Apollo networks. A lot of start-ups and even telecom giants like Reliance Jio are betting big on digital healthcare service now.
“When there is competition, we'll get better quality and price. From a corporate point of view, it makes you much smarter. We will beef up our services. If our quality is 99.9 percent, we'll try and make it 100 percent. The most important part about competition would be that as our chairman (Pratap Reddy) keeps saying, ‘you increase the size of the pie, your size will also increase," Thaploo said.