The world as we know, has afterall changed exponentially since the first COVID-19 case erupted in late 2019. COVID-19 was declared a “Global Pandemic” by WHO in March 2020.
Countries across the globe had imposed a stay at home order, affecting several industries, including the healthcare industry.
Data from the National Health Profile- 2019 India, there are 7,13,986 government hospitals’ beds in total, which accounts for 0.55 beds per 1,000 population. The widespread cases of COVID-19 and the unpredictable transmission rates skyrocketing high, there is a big demand in the healthcare industry. Though, the doctors and hospitals, despite running around the clock services, are not able to fulfill the demands.
Patients on other hand, have started to decline the opportunity to visit hospitals for consulting in the fear of transmission of COVID-19. However, owing to the pandemic scenario, teleconsultation has become the beacon of hope for the patients and doctors, and in general the hospitals.
Teleconsultation provides a platform for doctors/physicians to conduct virtual, secure consultations with patients in the comfort and safety of their own living rooms. For instance, advanced solutions like using Artificial Intelligence (AI) to deliver the required content to dynamic platforms, benefits both patients and physicians to connect while saving money and time.
Evolution of Teleconsultation:
When did teleconsultation begin? From urgent house calls to hospital visits, on-demand healthcare has always been a hot asset. A modern patient expects around the clock access to their doctor, and doctors today are able to do that via teleconsultation. However, though modern technologies like skype and facetime are in use, teleconsultation has been around much longer, since the first half of the 20th century.
Back in the early 1900s, the invention of radio revolutionized communication. After that, it wasn’t long before experts were inspired by the sudden boom in radio and started speculating about how doctors could attend patients remotely.
Radiology images were shared for the first time in 1940 between two towns via a telephone line. This was the world’s first recorded example of medical records being electronically transferred. In addition, building upon this technology in the 1950s, a Candian doctor constructed a teleradiology system that used motion pictures, also known as Video medicine. In 1959, University of Nebraska used two television setups for transferring information to medical students across campus. After that, five short years later the state hospital started performing video consultations.
It was in the 1960’s when both rural and urban regions were using telehealth technology. To be specific in 1967, Miami general hospital paired up with the fire-rescue department to transmit electrocardiographic rhythms over radion at the time of resume situations. After that, teleconsultation officially bloomed. Teleconsultation today resembles the earlier telemedicine equipment, but modern health tech has made it much smaller in size and more features, like the wearable fitness wristbands and heart rate monitors. Amidst the pandemic crisis, teleconsultation appears to be peoples’ go-to for any healthcare solutions.
A rise in demand for Teleconsultation services:
Reports state that as much as 90% of primary care visits can be performed remotely, and the in-person part is only to make the patients feel better and confident. Furthermore, the tools for virtual doctor visits have been in place for a while and but trending now owing to the current COVID-19 pandemic, doctors are opting into this service.
Furthermore, the futuristic assumption states that once the majority of doctors and patients are exposed to the benefits and efficiencies of telehealth, it will become a leading way to access health care.
There are currently more than 3 million confirmed COVID-19 cases worldwide.In the current scenario, teleconsultation provides the cheapest and safest way for primary health care consultations. It also acts as a bridge to sort the gap between rural-urban health.
Given the situation that our medical staff are getting engulfed by COVID-19 cases outnumbering the resources, it would be disastrous if doctors and other medical staff are quarantined. A teleconsultation enabled virtual visit could be the solution, without exposing the staff to the virus in times of such outbreaks. Added to that, this could contain the infection and reduce the risks for both healthcare workers and patients.
Government efforts to facilitate teleconsultation:
With the need to regulate the utility of teleconsultation, the Government of India recently launched certain teleconsultation guidelines. According to the guidelines the government is committed to providing quality healthcare to all and that teleconsultation is the profound solution to do it. The government believes that by facilitating teleconsultation, it is possible to minimize the barrier of access for medical assistance and services.
India’s new initiative encourages the use of digital tools for improving the outcome of the healthcare system. Moreover, it also focuses on the use of teleconsultation services, especially for primary health issues, wherein a mid-level healthcare provider can connect with the patients virtually ensuring a timely and best possible manner.
Currently, the government has collaborated with Apollo hospitals through which rural patients can consult doctors online and prescribe generic medicines, if needed. The Common Service Centres (CSCs) have been facilitating teleconsultation services with the support from Medanta and Apollo and now are currently being extended to 60,000 CSCs across the country.
Technical and Data privacy problems:
Just as everyone from governments to healthcare providers the focus is on teleconsultation. There are certain teething problems that need to be addressed and fixed. Not every patient will have a positive response to teleconsultation. There would be barriers like adaptability to change of regular practices, language issues, and more which need to be addressed. From the hospital’s end, there were few concerns mostly on technical support like software and legal issues.
Secondly, patients are hesitant to pay for such modes of consultation and also don’t receive full satisfaction. There is also the probability of other challenges related to cancellations, incomplete consultations, and refunds.
To address these issues, hospitals are allocating a certified body that monitors the quality standards. In the case of India, a country of multiple languages, it becomes difficult to resolve language issues. Solving this issue could definitely expand the teleconsultation reach.
Teleconsultation is not just any consultation/ talking over phones. A lot of medical signs need to be portrayed differently. For example, in Western countries, tele-consultation means to communicate and examine. Hence the patients and doctors are accustomed to the system. One of the greatest challenges faced in India is the limited capability of the doctors to tele consult. In a developing country like India, with technology evolving at such a rapid pace, teleconsultation is bound to develop drastically.
Organizational challenges in the teleconsultation field include legal liability, cost, privacy confidentiality, effectiveness, efficiency, and implementation models among others. The challenges for patients include age, computer literacy, unawareness, and bandwidth. To summarise the main challenges would be technically challenged staff cost, age of the patient, and reimbursement. The main challenges can be resolved by offering training camps and spreading more awareness and marketing.
Getting high-level authorities to make decisions on a daily basis is no simple task. This high-powered management has enough on the plate as is. This especially makes marketing a business-like teleconsultation difficult.
Along with the daily duties, leads are flooded through emails, phone calls, and advertisements, interrupting the day. It is more important to have hot leads rather than sending arbitrary messages to them. Here are some of the best marketing strategies for teleconsultation:
1.Offer educational and informational content:
“Content is King”. According to several studies, 80% of the decision-makers prefer getting information from some sort of article or blog over advertisements. Business publishing blogs create 4-5 times more leads than companies who do not.
By answering people’s questions through posts will help the chances of the posts being reshared, increasing the organization’s visibility. A customized strategy is key to make sure the content posted is valuable to potential leads.
2. Get more engagement on posts:
As important as content and digital presence is crucial, it is even more important to get engagement from the target audience. One of the best ways to accomplish this is by posting open-ended questions in the content. When prospects do engage, it is important to express a welcoming note before giving a detailed response, creating a much-needed trust around the organization.
3. Join a group/ community:
One of the effective ways for a good reach is by being part of groups/ communities in social media such as LinkedIn, Facebook which can help to resolve a few queries patients have regarding teleconsultation. Through this method of communication, there is more engagement and visibility.
4. Leverage social media:
Browsing social media and the recent posts brew great ideas to decide what topic an article/ blog should be based on. By actively discussing and answering questions in other posts, it gives the organization authority and increased awareness.
Sending out strategic sales emails will keep people engaged and keep the brand at the forefront of their minds. Nurturing the leads is also equally important by feeding them with the latest information on the field and company.
Future of Teleconsultation:
The future of telemedicine began late last year with the first eruption of COVID-19 case. This led to millions of people trying out teleconsultation for the first time.
Teleconsultations’ new norms of today will become the new normal in near future. Today’s obligatory preferences will be tomorrow’s default mode. Patients may not return back to face to face consultations, making teleconsultation a crucial essence of healthcare.
With technology progressing every day, doctors are able to do what they are meant to, spend more time with the patients and save time commuting and the same will be for the patients. Usually a considerable time is spent around getting opinions from different multispecialists, but through teleconsultation specialists can discuss the case openly, saving time and offering more transparency.
Generating new leads and increasing brand awareness is key to any business and teleconsultation is not an exception. It is important to nurture the leads and improve the chances of turning them into satisfied customers. Though all this may sound overwhelming, you are not alone in this. At InScience we partner with teleconsultation professionals to offer inbound marketing strategy, support and help in executing these tasks. By partnering we also help in generating new leads through digital presence and turn them into happy satisfied customers.
Shift to virtual consultation has always existed in India- after all Telemedicine Society of India was established 18 years ago! – and today COVID-19 has accelerated the process.
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