Healthcare Experts in India Discuss the Expansion of Digital Medicine

By Puja Shanbhag

On April 6, 2023 the India Center hosted a virtual panel with Sanjay Sood, Ph.D., project director and associate director of eSanjeevani (India’s National Telemedicine Service), Anuradha Pichumani, MBBS, executive director of Sree Renga Hospital in Tamil Nadu, and Parul Vadgama, M.D., associate professor & director of pulmonary medicine in the Government Medical College in Surat, Gujarat on the topic of India’s transition to digital healthcare. The discussion was moderated by Reid Oetjen, Ph.D., associate professor in the UCF School of Global Health Management and Informatics. 

Oetjen led a discussion on India’s widespread implementation of digital medicine after the Covid-19 pandemic. Sood detailed that India hosts the largest telemedicine scheme in the world, with most of the beneficiaries residing in rural areas with low infrastructure. The scheme is also implemented at all 155,000 government medical facilities across India, thereby providing access to a doctor to everyone without having to travel long distances and spend money on transportation to see a specialist. This digital medicine initiative fits into the larger Indian healthcare program, the Ayushman Bharat Yojana scheme, which is free. 

Pichumani explained how telemedicine is not just important and helpful for patients, but also for medical practitioners as it allows for specialists in urban areas or more experienced doctors to teach, advise and solve any inquiries from rural doctors through a virtual platform. Pichumani also detailed how during the height of the pandemic, they used digital medicine avenues at her hospital to train staff how to operate ventilators for patients that needed acute Covid-19 treatment. This reflected that digital medicine was not just for the diagnosis and treatment of patients, but also for strengthening the rural health facilities in all of India. 

Vadgama noted that initial barriers with implementation within digital medicine became easier to overcome because of the necessity the Covid-19 pandemic produced. Patients could not go to hospitals and see doctors personally with the same pre-pandemic. Telemedicine mitigated this problem for people that had chronic conditions such as diabetes and hypertension who needed help with diagnosis and consistent treatment options for these chronic conditions. 

Oetjen discussed the differences with the U.S. adoption of telemedicine contrasting with India’s and the panelists’ experiences.  Sood touched on why digital medicine had such success in India, compared to the U.S. The panelists discussed the implementation of traditional medicine practices along with regular allopathic care in telemedicine consultations, as well as the accessibility and availability of the systems. With the rise of digital healthcare, India is also addressing potential security and confidentiality risks as the use of digital healthcare appears to a be permanent fixture in medical care.

Watch the full discussion here

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