Lav Agarwal, Secretary in the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, has urged the Government to expand access to the app eSanjeevani.
eSanjeevani is a telehealth application that, The New Indian Express reported on September 8th, had been availed at that time by three lakh people. As The New Indian Express reported at the time, “the platform supports two types of telemedicine services — doctor-to-doctor through eSanjeevani and patient-to-doctor through eSanjeevani OPD [out-patient department]. It has provided essential healthcare at a critical time when conventional medicine is perceived to be risky owing to the nature of the coronavirus disease, the health ministry said.”
Telehealth has been adopted at an increased rate during the pandemic of COVID-19 – the disease caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) or, simply, coronavirus. Telehealth was the subject of a PandemiCast episode co-hosted on this platform. It also served as the subject of interviews I conducted with Gil Bashe, Managing Partner, Global Health at Finn Partners and Abhijeet Pandit – director and chief executive officer, SynPhNe India Pvt Ltd, VP Global Network Dev. and Marketing.
Telehealth, in a country like India with a substantial gap in accessibility, has manifold benefits. As I wrote for Health Issues India last year
“E-health ventures, especially in telemedicine, are becoming more common in India owing to the country’s shortage of doctors. According to the findings of the National Health Portal last year, India’s doctor-patient ratio is a mere one physician for every 11,082 Indians. This falls far short of World Health Organization (WHO) standards of one doctor for every thousand people.
“The findings came despite earlier claims that India’s doctor-patient ratio had improved to one doctor for every 921 people. Shortages of doctors are especially pronounced in specialist disciplines, such as gynaecology, paediatrics and surgery. To ameliorate the situation, both Congress and the BJP pledged to make efforts to increase India’s medical manpower in their manifestos for this year’s elections. But whilst the doctor-patient ratio continues to be as dismal as it is, telemedicine endeavours…can offer a lifeline for Indians unable to avail medical attention.”
eSanjeevani, Agarwal said, “while addressing COVID-19 situation as a threat, Government has also taken it as an opportunistic situation to quickly release the telemedicine guidelines and following up with issuing a gazette notification, in a record time. This helped us to formally release the e-Sanjeevani OPD application free of cost to the entire population of India.”
Agarwal added that “India is the first country to start thinking about the integrated approach at a grand scale for institutionalizing Digital Health across India, which is truly unparalleled”. India has, indeed, emphasised the value of digital healthcare. Last year, Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare Dr Harsh Vardhan enshrined digital healthcare into the Government’s strategy for universal healthcare coverage, stating “the Ministry of Health has initiated efforts in the direction of a comprehensive, nationwide integrated e-health system under the National Digital Health Blueprint (NDHB).”
He urged stakeholders to ensure the NDHB’s timely implementation. “The need of the hour is to create an ecosystem which can integrate the existing disparate health information systems and show clear path for upcoming programmes,” Vardhan added. “There is a need to ensure convergence across these IT systems to monitor and provide health services in a robust and efficient manner.”
The movement towards digital healthcare has far from dissipated during the pandemic. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, heralding digital healthcare on this year’s Independence Day, touted the country’s Digital Health Mission. “Whether it is making a doctor’s appointment, depositing money or running around for documents in the hospital, the mission will help remove all such challenges,” he said.