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Wellness blogSep, 20 2016

Can online doctor consultation be an alternative to real time treatment?

According to a study, 80 per cent of health issues can be solved online. But the challenge is that doctors cannot touch or feel a patient like an in-person visit. So, is it possible? Read on to know.

By Dhruv Suyamprakasam

When was the last time you fell sick and got even sicker thinking about the traffic you had to get through? Add to it, the waiting time at the doctor's clinic. You would be stressed out, isn't it?

You would want to call up your family doctor to ask for a solution. Alas! You lost touch with him as you moved out of your home town 4 years back for a job in Mumbai/Delhi/Bengaluru/Hyderabad/Chennai. Even if you get his number, the doctor would find it difficult to understand your health issue as he lost touch with you as well, thereby, not being able to chronicle your medical history.

Are you able to relate to this? Welcome to the modern world. This is the reality. Times have changed and will change even faster going forward. So now what can be the solution for this? Access to cabs has been disrupted by Uber and Ola. Commerce has been disrupted by marketplaces like Flipkart and Amazon. Lingerie has been disrupted by Zivame. How simple would it be if one could consult doctors online at the push of a button? But, can it be reliable? Can a previously unknown doctor really be able to solve health issues online and that too without seeing you? Read on to know how it is made possible and how it started and how it is evolving now.

To know about online doctor consultation, we have to know a bit about telemedicine as well. People often think telemedicine and online doctor consultations are the same. For category sake, online doctor consultation is considered a subset of telemedicine. But it is not the same. There's a difference between both; albeit a smaller one. The difference is that telemedicine needs paramedics who check vitals and is static! Static, because people still have to travel to telemedicine enabled centres.

The growth of telemedicine was limited as it was taken up only by state governments and as CSR activity. A new idea gets broader adoption when it's approached with an entrepreneurial mentality; had it not been for private players like Airtel, mobile connections would have had a slower adoption.

Online doctor consultation, an entrepreneurial approach to telemedicine is truly the "dynamic" form of telemedicine. It does not need one to be at any centre but just needs a device (mobile or computer) that connects to the modern day ether i.e Internet. That is the reason for the word "online" in online doctor consultations.

At iCliniq, we have observed that 80 per cent of health issues can be solved online. But the challenge is that doctors cannot touch or feel a patient like an in-person visit. There has to be a process to cure patients online. We are proud of the fact that we are first to have a quality assurance team (comprises of doctors and data scientists) and the first to devise such a process. It took almost 3000 interactions for our team to devise the process.

So what's the secret sauce here? We discovered that the best medical outcomes happen when ‘doctors ask the right questions to patients’ and not the contrary. Thanks to this approach, we have successfully consulted more than 1,80,000 health issues across 160 countries and are the first platform to have query, phone and video consults. We have open sourced this secret sauce as a matter of fact for the greater good of the healthcare ecosystem.

A quality assurance team is mandatory to constantly check the quality and the business of online doctor consultation is a confluence of technology and healthcare. Is it all good? Yes and No. If you noticed, I had told 80 per cent of health issues can be solved online.

What about the remaining 20 percent? They need vitals to be checked. Applying the Paretto's principle here, we would be able to reach 10 more per cent at the maximum due to the various technologies that will evolve. And that brings the scope of big data and devices that can be invented. What does big data do here? Apps that can understand the vitals from data from HealthKit or Google Health - Cardiio, an app is proven to identify your heart rate just by you looking at the camera. There are also wearables that can also track your lifestyle which will be helpful when arriving at your vitals - there's a device called clinicloud which can check your baby's temperature without even touching the baby and also has a stethoscope that can sync up with your phone. Actually 80 per cent possibility to handle consultations online through an online doctor consultation and 85 per cent capability is there with telemedicine kiosk.

Online doctor consultation is not an alternative to real time visits for the 20 per cent which has to be attended to in person. The smartness of an online doctor consultation platform is in its capability to identify what health issues need to be attended to in person and those that can be solved online. This capability is built only when a lot of research and data analysis are undertaken. Online doctor consultation can help solve bigger issues and ease the pressure at the out-patient department of a hospital or clinic. To summarise, online doctor consultations complement real time treatment wisely in 80 per cent of the treatment areas and is not a mitigation to real time treatment to the remaining 20 per cent treatment areas yet. Patients have to be wary of identifying the right platform which takes utmost care in understanding this limitation and working for the betterment of healthcare.

About the author:

Dhruv Suyamprakasam is the Founder and CEO of iCliniq, an online doctor consultation platform with a user base comprising more than 1,110 doctors from over 80 specialties and 1,10,000 patients spanning 160 countries. As an entrepreneur, Dhruv has worked tirelessly to build the category of online doctor consultations and grow the business. This has resulted in iCliniq being rated as the 5 th best telemedicine company in the world by Healthline and the only company from India to make the list.

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