Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Economic Times – ET Edge Insights, its management, or its members

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Evolving teleconsultation and e-pharmacy is expected to shift Indian healthcare to a “Phygital” model finds a recent study conducted by EY in collaboration with Indian Pharmaceutical Alliance (IPA).

Traditionally Indian healthcare would include physical visits to the doctor but with pandemic protocols and safety measures in place, patients were compelled to shift to virtual channels for medical consultations. As the realization sunk in that the “New Normal” is here to stay, consumer demand for teleconsulting and e-pharmacy started rising.

The need of the hour is a new transparent healthcare ecosystem that is integrated digitally to extend patients’ reach to doctors without in-person visits. Significant players in the healthcare sector have demonstrated interest in using virtual platforms to provide teleconsultations and e-pharmacy services to help patients manage their health with confidence.

The study found 64% consumers are willing to use teleconsultation for their medical needs which shows more than a two-fold jump from pre-Covid numbers. 80% of the doctors who took part in the survey, said they were already consulting patients via informal channels like audio/video chats and texting using different social messaging apps.

Teleconsulting platforms across the world including India experienced an uptake of 50-100%. Primary healthcare consultations grew from 5% to 95% globally, since January 2020. Practo, one of India’s leading teleconsultation platform reported that during the first phase of lockdown 5 crore Indians accessed healthcare services via their online platform.

While evaluating future consumer behavior in the sector, the survey found 72% respondents willing to increase their teleconsultation usage, while 85% wanted to decrease non-essential healthcare visits. The survey estimates 15-22% of healthcare will shift to virtual care covering three key areas – consulting, remote monitoring and home health.

Regulatory changes issued by the Medical Council of India during the lockdown boosted the growth of teleconsulting platforms substantially. As a result of these developments Health-Tech startups and established hospital chains started to explore this channel of healthcare.

With the rising consumer demand and swift response from the healthcare industry, it is certain that Indian healthcare is poised for a major transformation – a likely shift to “Phygital” model (unification of physical and digital channels) where patient-centricity lies at the core and digital technology acts as an enabler. Telemedicine market is estimated to grow to US$ 5.5 billion by 2025 with teleconsultation and e-pharmacy accounting for 90%.

Data will form the backbone of the new “Phygital” model. The current mechanisms of capturing and sharing data is fragmented. Soon it is expected to shift towards individualized data streams where all stakeholders would be integrated in a collaborative platform enabling a connected patient centric ecosystem.

Further, industry leaders would need to integrate all parts of the patient journey – doctor consultation, diagnosis and wellbeing, digitally. This will build a strong teleconsultation ecosystem where new businesses can grow sustainably. The ecosystem-based approach will accelerate the imminent change in the Indian healthcare system. It will enable faster development and adoption of telemedicine platforms.

This transition is a significant step that will determine the future of Indian healthcare system. India’s regulatory bodies including medical and industry associations, and private players are enabling the transition through collaboration.

Primary challenges towards the transition include privacy concerns about patient data, trust issues, apprehensions about substitution practices, limitations in consulting and dearth of adequate infrastructure in tier 2, tier 3 cities and rural areas.

Once the new “Phygital” model is established, the consumers would get used to its convenience and effectiveness. Hence, it is likely to sustain much beyond the pandemic and become an integral part of India’s healthcare system.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Economic Times – ET Edge Insights, its management, or its members

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