“Telemedicine anticipated to generate about US $5.5 billion in revenue by 2025”

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.

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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.

BV LogoHow 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.
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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.
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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.”
Another example can be that of the eSanjeevani OPD platform launched by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. Within a span of just six months since its inception, the telemedicine platform successfully facilitated 300,000 teleconsultations. The eSanjeevani OPD services played a crucial role in enabling patient-to-doctor virtual consultations during the challenging times of the Covid-19 pandemic. This innovative approach not only helped curb the transmission of the virus by promoting physical distancing but also ensured the provision of essential non-Covid healthcare services. The substantial volume of teleconsultations stands as a testament to the platform’s widespread acceptance and popularity among the general public.
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In what ways has Apollo Hospitals integrated telehealth into its existing healthcare infrastructure and services? 
Apollo Telehealth (ATH) has made significant contributions to India’s primary healthcare through public-private partnerships. The company has touched the lives of over 13 million people and is the largest provider of turnkey telemedicine services in India. ATH has a presence in over 500 public health centers, 100 franchised teleclinics, and 350,000 digital service centers.
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Are there any specific initiatives or partnerships that Apollo Hospitals has undertaken to further advance telehealth technology or expand its reach?
ATH has partnered with the Andhra Pradesh government to provide tele-ophthalmology services at 115 centers across the state. The company also operates the Himachal Pradesh Tele Health Program, which provides essential emergency, specialty, and super-specialty consultation services to locations in the Himalayan Mountain range. ATH has also been entrusted by the Uttar Pradesh government to provide tele-radiology services in 134 Community Health Centers (CHCs) and telemedicine services in 120 CHCs.
Apollo TeleHealth has further expanded its services with Digital Dispensaries across 100 selected PHCs in Jharkhand. These dispensaries are equipped with state-of-the-art equipment for vital signs monitoring, screening programs, and ICT devices. It has recently established Digital Dispensaries in Meghalaya in collaboration with the Meghalaya government. The company has also launched a holistic Cancer screening program in the state.
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How do you see telehealth shaping the doctor-patient relationship and the overall healthcare experience in the coming years? What trends do you foresee in the future?
Although telehealth cannot fully replace the need for in-person care, it significantly complements the doctor-patient relationship in various ways.
Healthcare providers are accustomed to the traditional in-person approach when it comes to treating and interacting with their patients. However, telehealth has emerged as a beneficial tool that can actually enhance the doctor-patient relationship. While some providers may initially feel apprehensive about remote consultations, the use of live video and audio communication can prove to be equally effective as face-to-face meetings. Moreover, telehealth facilitates improved communication between doctors and patients, ensuring that both parties have access to crucial information whenever it is needed.
The latest telehealth software is specifically designed to simulate the in-person experience, creating a sense of motivation for providers and patients to utilize these platforms. Through high-definition live video and clear audio capabilities, providers can seamlessly see and engage with their patients in real-time, as long as a reliable internet connection is available to both parties. The visual and auditory clarity achieved through telehealth matches that of an in-person visit, allowing for precise diagnoses. Doctors can utilize these tools to address a wide range of health concerns, ranging from everyday ailments and skin conditions to the flu, common cold, standard follow-up appointments, and even post-surgical recovery.
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What role do you see artificial intelligence and machine learning playing in the future of telehealth and healthcare as a whole?
Telemedicine is leveraging the power of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to enable doctors to make data-driven, real-time decisions that have the potential to enhance the patient experience and improve health outcomes. By incorporating AI into telemedicine, healthcare providers can explore virtual care alternatives across the entire care continuum. A study conducted by MIT revealed that healthcare facilities adopting AI reported significant benefits. Around 75% of these facilities experienced improved illness management capacity, while 4 out of 5 reported a reduction in employee fatigue. These findings highlight the promising role of AI in shaping the future of medical delivery.
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What is your vision for the future of healthcare delivery, and how does telehealth fit into that vision?
In envisioning the future of healthcare delivery, my focus centers on facilitating a transformative shift from curative to preventive care, and from traditional hospital and clinic settings to the comfort and convenience of patients’ homes. This vision is intricately woven with advancements in healthcare information technology, culminating in a seamless integration of telehealth solutions. As a proponent of progressive healthcare, my goal is to leverage telehealth’s potential to enhance accessibility, efficiency, and patient-centeredness.
Telehealth acts as a catalyst for revolutionizing healthcare delivery. With remote patient monitoring devices and digital health platforms, individuals can engage in self-care, track vital signs, and seamlessly share data with their healthcare providers. This collaborative approach encourages early detection of potential health issues, empowers individuals to make informed lifestyle choices, and ultimately reduces the burden of acute care services.
In this future-oriented healthcare ecosystem, telehealth integrates harmoniously with other innovative technologies, such as artificial intelligence and machine learning. These advancements will optimize diagnostic accuracy, enable predictive analytics, and empower healthcare professionals to deliver tailored treatments and interventions based on comprehensive data analysis.

*This interview was first published in the August 2023 edition of the BioVoice eMagazine.