Telemedicine leverages technology to connect patients and healthcare workers remotely for advice, diagnosis, and prescriptions. It’s not a new concept; video telemedicine was first used in 1959 by the University of Nebraska. As the internet gained traction through the 1990s and brought with it the information explosion, telemedicine took full advantage of the new platform.
The coronavirus pandemic has left very little unchanged about the way we live our lives. The way we shop, work, exercise, and socialise is different and has been termed the ‘new normal’ by some. The virus has led to increased attention and new perspectives in specific areas such as consumerism, environmental concerns, inequalities and healthcare systems.
Many countries are dealing with a shortage of medical professionals while ongoing economic disparity and poverty lead to more evident barriers to adequate healthcare in developing countries. For example, deprived rural communities lack the infrastructure and capacity to access the appropriate help.
The past decade has seen a growth in innovative start-ups looking to solve this problem, harnessing technology to bring effective medical care to people. For some, telemedicine is also seen as an opportunity to reduce the costs of delivering healthcare and offers convenience to patients. The most common form is video or chat consultations where a patient is connected to a registered doctor through their computer or mobile phone. The doctor can seek to diagnose their issue, provide treatment advice, and send prescriptions to the pharmacy nearest to the patient.
98point6, a leading telemedicine start-up, has stated that their clinic volume has more than tripled since the beginning of 2020. 40% of those appointments have been coronavirus related concerns.
Practo, a telemedicine start-up based in India, has seen a 250% increase in appointments related to gynaecological consults. There’s been a big jump in people switching to telemedicine for their primary care during the lockdown.
Telemedicine’s part in flattening the curve
Slowing the spread and therefore seeking to reduce the number of total cases of coronavirus has been the key strategy for many governments across the world. Social distancing has led to increased use of telemedicine, allowing people to get the medical help they need without leaving their homes and risking exposure to the virus. Remote consultations have allowed doctors to manage their resources more effectively through the pandemic.
Who is making it virtually possible?
98point6 offers unlimited, 24/7 access to US-based board-certified doctors for a flat yearly fee + $1 per visit. Through a chat consultation, doctors can offer a diagnosis, treatment plan, and prescribe medication. Having unlimited access to a virtual clinic allows people to have all their medical questions and concerns addressed without the time and finances required for traditional primary care.
Since the beginning of Covid-19, 98point6 has seen its consult volume triple and has tripled its workforce of doctors to meet the demand.
Babylon is a full-service telemedicine platform that provides video consultations, a health tracker, and a symptom checker. Appointments can be made with GPs, specialists, or therapists. To meet the increase in demands resulting from the pandemic, Babylon has developed a COVID-19 care assistant.
LIVI, also known as KRY outside of the UK, lets you connect with a doctor in minutes through your smartphone or tablet. LIVI has partnered with general practitioner (GP) practices throughout the UK so doctors can meet with their registered patients through the platform. If your doctor is available through LIVI, the fee is covered by the National Health Service (NHS).
LetsGetChecked provides home testing kits for a wide range of medical concerns. Testing kits are individually priced and available for sexual health, Lyme disease, hormones, vitamins, and many more. The process is simple: collect your sample in the morning and return on the same day using the provided prepaid shipping label. Test results are available within 2-5 days.
LetsGetChecked has recently raised $71 million which will go towards developing at-home COVID-19 testing kits.
Practo’s online platform connects patients with qualified doctors almost instantly for a consultation. Clinicians can offer a diagnosis, treatment plan, order tests, and prescribe medication through a video consultation. Practo offers a free follow-up within three days of the initial consultation, and a money-back guarantee if the doctor is unable to assist through the platform.
Location: United Kingdom
PushDoctor has partnered with the NHS to connect patients with their primary care doctor by video consultation. If your own doctor isn’t available on the service, they will connect you with another NHS GP. PushDoctor connects patients with doctors quickly for a 10-minute video consultation. Doctors can diagnose, provide treatment plans, and send prescriptions to a pharmacy most convenient for the patient.
The future of telemedicine
Covid-19 is responsible for the recent surge in telemedicine out of necessity, but the possibilities are vast. Both patients and clinicians may develop a preference for remote consulting, especially with the promise of flexible working and consulting. The need for telemedicine may slow when we reach the end of the pandemic. However, its place in medical care is likely to remain. It’s worth noting that it may be more suited to certain specialities or situations, such as primary care or initial consultations. Covid-19 is encouraging the adoption of telemedicine and quickly pushing innovation forward as start-ups evolve to match the needs of patients.