Rajkamal Rao

Embracing telemedicine

Rajkamal Rao | Updated on November 23, 2021

India can learn from US’ experience

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought about numerous changes in the way we work and live. Some innovations, such as flexible work arrangements, reliance on Zoom conferencing, and virtual collaboration, are here to stay.

The healthcare sector has the potential to revolutionise its delivery model dramatically. With the pandemic forcing people to stay home, Telemedicine has evolved from clunky Skype calls to a mature, state-of-the-art platform. US startups like Oscar and Livongo have pushed the envelope with their forward-thinking approach and are winning praise from providers and patients alike.

Oscar, a health insurer, understands that patients like to communicate with their phones by text messaging. The Oscar app is cleverly designed to give everything a patient needs.

By swiping and tapping on a phone screen, a patient can quickly find in-network brick and mortar doctors by speciality, name, or facilities, such as an urgent care centre, pharmacy, or hospital. Booking an appointment takes another tap. A confirmation comes through as an alert, and the patient is good to appear at the provider. But these features are standard today with most insurance apps. Where Oscar stands out is in the virtual care space.

When a patient first signs up for virtual care, Oscar sends out a vitals kit — for free — using which patients can measure blood pressure and pulse at home. For diabetic patients, Oscar has partnered with Livongo, which sends out a free diagnostic glucometer and an unlimited supply of strips for life. The glucometer synchronises with the Livongo app via WiFi. When a patient records a blood sugar level by employing a lancet, the reading is automatically entered into the patient’s database. The app also provides patients a log to track meals and connects to a FitBit or Apple Watch to log physical activity data. All of these are shining examples of patient self-service.

When the patient is ready for a virtual care appointment, a tap on the Oscar app shows a list of providers. Which provider to choose? Much like Amazon, each provider is rated by other patients on a one-five star scale. A second tap leads to an appointment. Two days before the target date, an alert on the app (and by email) reminds the patient that a meeting is upcoming.

On the day of the visit, the patient opens the app and enters their health vitals. If the patient has recently visited a lab for blood work or other tests, the lab would have automatically uploaded results to be part of the patient’s record. A message that the provider has examined the results comes into the app, assuring that the impending appointment will be more productive.

Leading up to the appointment, the patient can text the provider their questions within the Oscar app. The provider often responds within 24 hours, much like a conversation on WhatsApp. The entire thread remains forever in the app for both provider and patient.

The patient logs into a secure video call either on a PC or the app at the appointed time. If the provider is running late, an Oscar bot sends a text message to alert the patient. The call is in a familiar setting for both patient and provider — their home — and, therefore, relaxed. The provider can order prescriptions that are electronically transmitted to an online pharmacy that ships the medication home for free.

Telemedicine makes it possible to provide patients with high-quality, affordable, safe, and accessible care. Its reach is limited only by bandwidth and the availability of a smartphone. The backend vertical integration of systems that Oscar has accomplished in an otherwise staid industry is impressive.

With its technological prowess, India should step up embracing an advanced telemedicine model as an alternate delivery platform for preventative medicine and interventions aimed at maximizing a person’s quality of life.

The writer is Managing Director, Rao Advisors LLC, US

Published on November 23, 2021

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