New Delhi: The Indian healthcare industry needs to shift from traditional in-person doctor-patient interaction to digitally-enabled remote consultations, states the recently released study by EY titled, “Healthcare goes mobile: Evolution of teleconsultation and e-pharmacy in new Normal.” The study, conducted in collaboration with the Indian Pharmaceutical Alliance (IPA), is based on results collated by surveying consumers, doctors, stakeholders from leading Indian pharma companies and Global EY research. The study aims to understand the transition of the Indian healthcare system due to technology disruptions, opportunities and challenges.
As COVID-19 defines a new normal, the patient—doctor interactions via digital channels are expected to increase. According to the survey results, 64% of consumers showed an increased willingness to adopt teleconsultation post—COVID-19. On the other hand, doctors are also trying to reduce the non-essential visits of the patients with approximately 80% of them being consulted using informal means of consultation such as audio, video and texts messages through various apps. 15%-20% of the healthcare ecosystem is expected to shift to virtual care, across triaging, consults, remote monitoring, home health, etc. However, the rapid growth driven by increased digitization will raise challenges related to patient’s data privacy and prescription substitution. Thus, there is an immediate need for a strong regulatory framework in the interest of patients /consumers. As per the study, India’s e-pharmacy market is projected to reach 10%-12% of overall pharmaceutical sales in the next five years driven by strong regulations, increased funding and creation of digital infrastructure.
Sudarshan Jain, Secretary-General, Indian Pharmaceutical Alliance expressed, “As the COVID-19 pandemic throws unprecedented challenges, consumer behavior and patterns are changing dramatically. With the new norms of “social distancing”, traditional ways of in-person doctor-patient interaction are being digitally enabled by remote consultations. While the technology will be a great enabler, evolving regulation should guard areas of patient privacy which is fundamental in relation to healthcare. The industry is experiencing a technology revolution and customer expectations have huge demands on what is possible.”
Sriram Shrinivasan, Partner & Leader – Life Sciences, EY India, says, “With the current levels of adoption by the patients and doctors along with emerging technologies and ecosystem, India is well poised to grow the digital health ecosystem. For the wider acceptance and usage, there is a need for robust regulatory and governance framework that provides the right support for growth”
Pramod Sudhindra, Digital Leader – Life Sciences, EY India, says “The next 9 months will see a rapid evolution and transformation in the healthcare industry with the adoption of e-pharma and tele-medicine services. Integrated ecosystem is the largest factor driving adoption of these services.”
Virtual care constitutes of tele–consult, telepathology, teleradiology and e–pharmacy. It is experiencing an encouraging stimulus in India due to the pandemic. This stimulus has the potential to make teleconsultation and e-pharmacy account for ~95% of the telemedicine market by 2025, which amounts to US$5.2b.
The pandemic has highlighted the need to build a simplified and holistic teleconsultation platform, guided by the robust regulatory and policy framework, encompassing all key stakeholders. The teleconsultation healthcare ecosystem will connect the three stakeholders, namely, (i) providers – doctors and paramedics, (ii) payers – patients and insurance companies, and (iii) fulfilment centers – pharmacies and diagnostic labs, through platform providers. The platform providers can be hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, NGOs and government or private bodies.
Teleconsultation’s market size in India is expected to grow from US$100m to US$700m in next five years at a CAGR of 48% as per the EY-IPA report. The recently released regulatory guidelines by Medical Council of India (MCI) provide necessary impetus to teleconsulting. Moreover, the spend on medical infrastructure is also likely to increase to US$200b by 2024.
Having said that, there are challenges towards the adoption of teleconsulting as well. While 54% patients questioned the reliability of the online diagnosis, 30% are not comfortable with the use of technology and the virtual sphere. Data privacy also remains a key area of concern.
The pandemic has accelerated the need for change in the form of immediate adoption of widespread telehealth services. Teleconsultation has the potential to add value to the patient-provider experience. It may become the next frontier to handle public health crisis and be one of key pillar of patient care in the post COVID world.
The government is taking necessary steps through active policy making to develop the teleconsultation ecosystem and increase its adoption. Digital policies including National Digital Health Mission have given a boost to private entities to participate in the creation of collaborative digital platforms. A technology-enabled ecosystem with strategic partnerships with relevant stakeholders will be key to a thriving/sustained virtual healthcare journey.
Key factors to make teleconsultation a success:
Patient experience emerged as a key determinant for continued use of teleconsultation services. Addressing certain perception barriers may enable teleconsultation to transcend and extend beyond the current crisis
Healthcare providers are also demonstrating an increased propensity towards finding a comprehensive virtual solution to enable seamless patient care in a secure environment. There is a need to support doctors to deliver care across the continuum by using the right technology enablers and focused specialties for teleconsultation for value and volume debottlenecking
Interventions by relevant government stakeholders to build patient confidence and authenticity in remote consultations with transparent SOPs, compliance and strict data privacy and security laws