Teleconsultation – the new normal in the COVID era and the foreseeable future

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COVID pandemic has caused a paradigm shift in the ways people think and approach various aspects of personal and professional life. It is one of the biggest catastrophes in the modern era that has already claimed more than a million lives and has become one of the biggest scourge for the modern economy, shoving the world to think on its feet and exacerbating the already existing economic inequalities. The pandemic which started as health pandemic, seems to have long-lasting ramifications to the way we live and work. Even after the virus subsides, businesses and economies will struggle to cope with the aftermath of this crisis for years to come.

Every crisis, however, is a catalyst for change and it is no less true with the current one. It has induced dramatic change in the workplace dynamics, bringing forth emerging trends on how and where work is done. The so-called traditional and non-tech savvy businesses are forced to embrace a new way of work altogether which has much to do with exploiting new-age tech innovations. These new-age tech innovations have proved to be the greatest tools and have helped bridge distances that people are forced in the midst of a catastrophe that has engulfed the whole world.

Everyone is busy re­imagining the who, where, how and what of work in the new normal. The old rhythm of work — offices, the structure of timings, commutes- have disappeared and the humanity is now presented with an opportunity to do things better. The disruptive craziness created by the pandemic has allowed us to reinvent work better. With the removal of the old structures, all the obstacles of before — language, time, physical presence, etc. — has been removed, and a new, radically inclusive, hyper collaborative work world created. Working from home has become the common theme in the IT industry and it is going nowhere even after the risks from the pandemic are reduced and things are going to be back to normal for the most part.

Similarly, online medical consultation or teleconsultation platform, which forms a part of telemedicine, has emerged as one of the attractive modern tools for the patients that are not able to travel and those who want to have a second opinion for the disease that they are already suffering from. This innovative method has become the best option to connect to the best available doctors in the country. The patients can get a fair amount of idea of the disease and the future course of action for the remedy of the same. The various online platforms that have come up in recent times offering teleconsultation services also offer additional services wherein the past medical and medication records can be uploaded and the same can be shared with the doctor with patient’s consent. In this way, the patient doesn’t have the burden to keep all the medical records with him/her while consulting a doctor. The other significant advantage of online consultation is that the major hurdle of long waiting times for consulting famous doctors is overcome and both patient and the doctor can schedule the consultation at a time which is mutually convenient.

The flexible time-table is one of the most important advantages allowing patients having access to the doctors of their choice without skipping their daily busy schedules. The second biggest advantage is regarding the physical presence of the patients in case of follow-ups. It is frequently observed that the test reports often turn out to be normal and there is no requirement of the patient to be physically present at the hospital setting thus saving time of both the patient and the doctor. The other significant advantage of an online platform is to avoid contracting communicable diseases by physically visiting a clinical setting. This is because hospitals and clinics are usually beaming with patients suffering from various dangerous diseases that can be transmitted. This has especially proved to be a boon in the present scenario as COVID 19 doesn’t seem to stop anywhere and is spreading like a wildfire.

Now what are the types of people who are going to benefit from this? These include full-time employed people who find it very difficult to spare few hours to visit a clinic for problems that may present as annoying but are quite innocuous in nature. The long commuting hours that are involved in the process of visiting a hospital can break the routine and lead to loss of productive man-hours. The second class of people who seem to be the most benefitted are the geriatric population that is people who are old and find it very difficult to visit a doctor due to the presence of other ailments. The best example is the presence of thyroid diseases in older patients. These diseases cause a lot of disturbing symptoms but can be easily managed by medication. Listening to the symptoms, the doctor can prescribe blood tests to check the levels of thyroid hormones. Thanks to the advances in the technology, even the blood samples can be collected at home and the test results can be mailed to the patient and the doctor. Once the tests reveal the presence of thyroid disease, the required prescription can be uploaded on the teleconsultation platform and the disease managed from the comfort of home. Modern societies where nuclear family systems are more common, elderly parents find it very difficult to access quality healthcare by themselves. Teleconsultation can come in very handy in such situations. Their children can browse and select the best available doctors and get their parents consulted by them. If the disease needs further examination and admission to a hospital, they can follow up and timely treatment can be availed. Apart from teleconsultation, the other telemedicine services that are being routinely adopted now are telepathology, teleradiology and tele-ICU. People diagnosed with some disease on online platform and requiring further intervention physically by the doctor can also visit the same doctor and thus the field of medical tourism can also play an important role. The apprehension of seeing a new doctor in an entirely new place can be stressful. Online consultation can take care of this problem by preceding this step and help the patient and the doctor to know each other well beforehand.

As there are advantages, so there are some disadvantages to the use of an online platform for getting an online consultation. Without examining the patient physically, it becomes very difficult for the doctor to arrive at a definite conclusion of the severity or the stage of the disease. As the technology advances in future, the current gaps that are existing in getting the correct diagnosis may get narrowed and this mode of consultation may become the new normal. The risk is to benefit ratio, at present, tilts in the favour of the general public. The future of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Data Analytics holds significant promise for online innovations where patterns of different stakeholders, in case of teleconsultation, the patients and the doctors, can be stored, studied and used for future references as wells as prevent the diseases that can occur due to them in the long time. Also digital innovations can play an important role in saving people’s lives. The most recent example of a man in India is a beautiful testimony to this. The man owned an Apple smartwatch. He observed abnormalities in his ECG pattern and immediately consulted a cardiologist. He was diagnosed with a critical disease and operated for the same thus saving his life by getting timely trewtment. Online consultation can also prove to be a boon for the physically challenged people who have been ignored for a long time and their access to quality healthcare has been practically denied.

So, as the innovations become more perfect and synchronized in the future, much can be achieved in almost all the fields including the online consultation platform. Someone has rightly said, “Change is the only constant!” Let us embrace this beautiful change and march towards a more inclusive and collaborative future.

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