In an exclusive interview, Vikram Thaploo, CEO-Telehealth, Apollo Hospitals shares his vision for telehealth in India, Apollo’s initiatives and experiences, besides growth opportunities and upcoming trends in the segment.
How has the telehealth industry evolved since you joined Apollo Hospitals?
The telemedicine industry in India has evolved significantly since I joined Apollo. In the early 2000s, it was largely limited to government-funded projects and academic institutions. However, the rapid growth of the internet and mobile phone networks in India has led to a surge in private sector investment in this segment.
In 1999, an important milestone in the evolution of telemedicine in India occurred when the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) initiated the first Telemedicine Pilot Project in collaboration with Apollo Hospitals Not for profit company, Apollo Telemedicine Networking Foundation. This project established a connection between Chennai’s Apollo Hospital and the Apollo Rural Hospital in Aragonda village, located in the Chittoor district of Andhra Pradesh. This pilot project showcased the potential of telemedicine to bridge the gap between urban medical facilities and rural areas, providing access to quality healthcare remotely.
Building upon the progress made, in 2005, the Health Ministry of India took a significant step by establishing the National Telemedicine Taskforce. Subsequently, in 2008, the National Rural Telemedicine Network (NRTN) was launched. This initiative aimed to further expand telemedicine services in rural areas, particularly addressing the healthcare needs of underserved communities. Another notable initiative that exemplified the collaborative efforts between public and private institutions to bolster digital healthcare was the eSanjeevani Telemedicine initiative, launched in November 2019. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Indian government took a significant stride towards unlocking the full potential of telemedicine by eliminating regulatory barriers through the introduction of the Telemedicine Practice Guidelines in 2020.
What kind of growth is expected within telemedicine segment during the next few years?
According to recent studies, the telemedicine industry in the country is expected to experience significant expansion from now until 2025, with a projected compound annual growth rate of 31 percent. This growth is anticipated to generate approximately $5.5 billion in revenue. The future of telemedicine is brimming with possibilities, driven by the rapid evolution of technology and changing healthcare needs. As internet connectivity becomes more pervasive and smartphones continue to be an integral part of daily life, telemedicine is poised to transform the way healthcare services are accessed and delivered. The integration of advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning will revolutionize telemedicine by empowering healthcare providers with intelligent tools for accurate diagnoses and personalized treatment recommendations.
Could you share some brief examples where telehealth has made a significant impact on patients’ lives?
The telemedicine capability with Apollo Telehealth recently played a key role in saving two lives—that of a woman and her child—during an emergency birth at a height of more than 12,000 feet in Kaza. Abruptio Placentae was the mother’s condition when she was admitted to the Kaza Community Health Centre (CHC). Though a caesarean section was used to deliver the baby, the mother experienced post-surgical haemorrhage issues. Due to the pre-term delivery and the infant’s low birth weight, complications were also beginning to have an impact on the infant. The infant was also born with a blue discoloration. The mother and child had to be monitored 24 hours a day for six days at CHC Kaza through the use of telemedicine services with experienced doctors from Apollo due to the difficulties in organising logistics for the transportation of the patients given the topographical restrictions. After setting up logistical support, the mother and child were eventually transported to higher medical Hospital in Manali. A day after the initial therapeutic treatments, their condition stabilised.
“In this future-oriented healthcare ecosystem, telehealth integrates harmoniously with other innovative technologies, such as artificial intelligence and machine learning.”