A recent national survey showed that 38% of Indians aged 15 and above who had a non-COVID related health need during what they considered the most severe lockdown, accessed health services through online consultations/telemedicine. Such online methods were not used in isolation, but were supplemented with physical visits to either government and/or private clinics.
The survey findings, launched on 12 November, reveal some of the indirect impacts that the COVID crisis has had on access to health services in India during the various lockdowns faced by the nation since the crisis unfolded. Respondents were asked questions about access to healthcare during what they considered the ‘most severe’ lockdown period experienced. 68% considered the Janata curfew and subsequent nationwide lockdown between March and May 2020 to be the ‘most severe’ lockdown.
Of those who required health services, 61% said they needed to get treatment for non-COVID-19 related illnesses that they faced during the specified lockdown. Meanwhile, 14% needed access to ongoing treatment for chronic conditions such as cancer, diabetes, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS. Of those who required treatment for chronic conditions, 37% said they missed at least one appointment due to the prevailing COVID-19 crisis.
The survey was conducted by LIRNEasia, a regional think tank working on digital policy issues across the Asia Pacific, and ICRIER, a policy-oriented economic policy think tank based out of New Delhi. The survey findings were released at a virtual launch event conducted on 12 November 2021, which included a panel discussion with leading government, private sector and civil society representatives. Panelists included Dr. Jaijit Bhattacharya (President, Centre for Digital Economy Policy Research), Abhishek Singh (President & CEO, National e-Governance Division, Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology), Nishanth Baghel (Director of Technology Innovations, Pratham) and Helani Galpaya (CEO, LIRNEasia). The discussion was moderated by Dr. Rajat Kathuria (Senior Visiting Professor, ICRIER).
“Our research shows that it is not only the young, urban and wealthy who have benefited from online consultations. While appreciating the reach of these online channels, we must not see it as a replacement for physical visits to clinics for all, particularly for those with health conditions requiring in-person testing and treatment. We instead see it as a service that will be used alongside more traditional models, at least for now.” said Senior Research Manager of LIRNEasia, Gayani Hurulle.
According to Dr. Rajat Kathuria, Senior Visiting Professor at ICRIER, “Online consultations became quite the norm during the pandemic. Advances in technology made virtual diagnosis possible even in some remote areas of the country. However, the overburdened public health infrastructure, during the peaks of the first and second wave, led to helplessness even among non-COVID patients. The pandemic has given us an opportunity to course correct and strengthen public health facilities in the country.”