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Practo’s telemedicine platform sees 500% growth in Covid era

Dr Alexander Kuruvilla, Chief Healthcare Strategy Officer, Practo shares that the demand for digital health solutions that has surged during the pandemic, will continue to grow even in a post Covid world

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How has the Covid-19 crisis given an impetus to the growth of telemedicine in India ?

The Covid-19 pandemic has shone a spotlight on the need for a strong technological ecosystem within healthcare, not only in India, but across the globe. In the wake of the pandemic, technology which was only being used in the back-end is now at the forefront of this health crisis through tools like telemedicine. This has encouraged countries to implement long-term telehealth tools and enhance the interoperability of electronic medical records.

The demand has surged for digital health solutions during the pandemic and we believe that it will continue to grow even in a post Covid world. Patients are now getting a hang of telemedicine as an alternative to access healthcare, while doctors are also promoting and are supportive of this new digital technology. Corroborating this fact, Practo’s telemedicine platform has witnessed a growth of 500 per cent since March 1, 2020.

Below are some insights from Practo:

● Queries regarding fever, cough, cold, sore throat and body ache have increased by more than 200 per cent and overall telemedicine calls increased by 500 per cent since March, first week
● More than 50 per cent of all GP eConsults were related to Coronavirus
● Most of the queries are from people in the age group of 25 – 40
● There has been a significant increase in the number of people using online consultation aged 60 and above
● Close to 40 per cent of all teleconsults on the Practo platform are happening from Tier-2/3 cities
● Peak timings for queries related to fever, cough, and cold are 9 – 12 in the morning and 7 – 9 in the evening
● 30-35 per cent of the consultations are from women
● Doctors are getting more and more number of consult requests at 2-3 am in the morning, to as late as 10-11 pm at night

What kind of new trends has your platform witnessed in the last few months, post the lockdown ?

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has triggered an adoption of more-healthful behaviours among the people who have started consulting doctors online for even the smallest of health concerns instead of self-diagnosis and self-medication. While there are a lot of growing apprehensions around various health issues amidst Covid-19, more and more people are using telemedicine to get their doubts clarified by the experts.

According to the Practo Health Insights there has been a surge in gynaecology, pediatric and mental health queries; online queries for gynaecology on Practo’s telemedicine platform grew by more than 250 per cent since corona outbreak. While online queries for pediatrics on Practo’s eConsult platform witnessed a growth of 350 per cent since March 1, 2020 and queries for psychiatry on Practo’s eConsult platform grew by 200 per cent in the last three months.

Has the growth of your platform been concentrated in particular cities, regions or states ?

● Top cities from where most of the queries are coming from are Bangalore, Delhi NCR, Hyderabad, Mumbai, Pune, and Chennai.
● T2+ cities from where most of the queries are coming from – Ahmedabad, Jaipur, Lucknow, Bhubaneshwar, and Indore.
● More than 20 per cent of GP consults on the Practo platform are happening from Tier-2/3 cities. While 35-40 per cent of overall consults are also from Tier 2 cities.

When do you foresee telemedicine reaching the hinterlands of India ?

India’s digital connectivity is expected to reach 80 per cent access in 2034, with rural Internet users increasing by 58 per cent annually. With smartphone and internet penetration growing, rural India is getting tech savvy with every passing day and are adopting new technologies that can improve their lifestyle. Reports indicate that only about 27 per cent of the country has access to crucial healthcare services. Given the lack of access to quality healthcare, especially in rural India, telemedicine can be a revolutionary tool that has the power to minimise these critical imbalances through technology. Anyone with a smartphone will have 24*7 access to verified doctors no matter which part of the country they are in. This trend can drive the adoption of telemedicine and other digital technologies, thereby increasing access to healthcare for people in rural areas.

Your focus on tech innovation, and how that is contributing to the digital healthcare scenario in the country ?

There is always a gap between supply and demand in healthcare i.e. availability of doctors. To tackle this, Practo is building a core infrastructure that will ensure the patients 24*7 access to doctors on their phones. Our philosophy is based on how we can make the lives of doctors and patients better by using technology.

What are your plans for the future, in terms of new technologies and strategic expansion?

Telemedicine is playing a frontline role in the Covid-19 outbreak; if it can have such a far reaching impact during such a crisis, then it’s worth exploring what it could do in day to day delivery of healthcare when life goes back to normal. Access, quality and affordability are three key issues facing healthcare today, and telemedicine fits in well to solve for all three. While its first usage dates back to a couple of decades ago, it’s really only in the last few weeks that India has truly experienced its full potential. When we first launched our online appointment booking service, it took some time, but, with the convenience it brought, now the majority of Indians book appointments online. It’s only a matter of time. Telemedicine can act as a strong first line of defense, hence, we see it becoming mainstream soon.

In such a time of crisis, solving for access is what we’re working towards, so patients can continue consulting their doctors.

Doctor-patient interaction lies at the core of everything we do at Practo, so definitely, teleconsult is a very important aspect. We’ve served millions over the last couple of years using our teleconsult platform. While patients from smaller towns and cities were using this service too, but, a majority of users were from metro cities. We will work towards expanding its reach in smaller cities and towns, where quality and access may be a challenge.

Over the last few days, we’ve received requests from a large number of hospitals and clinics to make the online consultation services live for them. We’re also reaching out to a lot of establishments, so they can continue consulting their patients online. During such times when stepping out is advisable only in times of emergency, teleconsult plays an important role. We’re working hard towards ensuring there’s uninterrupted access to care, and that patients can continue consulting their doctors.

Is there any other significant factor you would like to highlight ?

At Practo, we truly believe that if we succeed in sustaining the current level of acceptance and simplified regulatory framework, it will result into increased long-term use for digital healthcare, especially telemedicine, the coronavirus pandemic will be remembered as the breakthrough point of the digital health industry in India.

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