Social distancing amid virus pushes patients to consult doctors online

Topics Coronavirus | doctors | hospitals

Each general physician on Practo in normal times consults 25-30 patients a day | File photo
Social distancing on account of coronavirus has started affecting hospitals and health clinics.

People in larger numbers are opting for virtual consultation because they want to avoid hospitals during the time of coronavirus. 

Moreover, with restrictions on visas and arrivals, medical tourism too has taken a hit. 

Digital healthcare platform Practo, for example, has seen a jump of three to four times in requests for consultation with general physicians. 

Each general physician on Practo in normal times consults 25-30 patients a day.

“It is not possible to handle an increase of this magnitude. Doctors are getting requests at 2-3 am in the morning to as late as 10-11 pm at night. People are consulting doctors even when there are small symptoms. There are those who don’t want to visit a clinic or hospital for fear of exposure,” the company spokesperson said. 

Sample this: There is an average of 16 per cent week-on-week increase in the number of those who want to contact general physicians on Practo’s online consultation platform.

About 53 per cent of all e-consultations last week were related to coronavirus. 

“We’ve increased our doctor base by close to 50 per cent in the past four weeks. We have reached out to more doctors and hospitals to use Practo’s platform to tele-consult their patients,” the spokesperson said. 

Practo allows users to share reports and images, and do video calls. It’s available 24 hours a day in 20 specialties. 

Alexander Kuruvilla, chief healthcare strategy officer, Practo, told Business Standard: “The coronavirus outbreak has created a sense of panic as new cases are being reported every day. Similar symptoms of coronavirus and common cold have made it difficult to distinguish between the two.” 

Reports indicate that the Chinese are turning to online consultation faster than ever before, he added. 

1mg, an e-pharmacy and also healthcare platform that allows you book diagnostic tests, etc, has seen a 300 per cent spike in e consultations for cold and fever like symptoms since the beginning of March. Contrary to popular perception, the calls too have been pouring in from across the country, and not just from metros. 

Another healthcare platform DocOnline has seen an expected spike in demand for telemedicine in India. “Within DocOnline the number has almost doubled the amount in March as compared to February,” said Markus Moding, founder and board member of DocOnline.

While virtual and telephonic consultations have seen a spike, at the same time there has been a dip in hospital visits, especially by foreign patients. With visa restrictions, arrivals have slowed down. Patients who travel for medical help here are all planned surgeries and consultations. They have now postponed the same, said the industry. 

Dilip Jose, chief executive officer, Manipal Hospitals, which roughly draws 6-7 per cent of its overall patients from overseas, said the patients who were in India were the ones visiting the hospital now. "In April, we would see the real fall in the numbers as nobody would be able to plan their visits now and people would ideally like to wait until things settle down," he said. 

Jose further added that the difference between average revenue per patient for an international and domestic patient is 7-8 per cent or so. 

While hospitals did not wish to give revenue guidelines for the March quarter yet due to loss of foreign patients, they admitted that the foreign footfall would come to a grinding halt. 

Alok Roy, chairman of Medica Group of Hospitals, a Kolkata-headquartered group, told Business Standard: "We get approximately 1,000 new patients (medical tourists) per month in addition to patients who come for reviews, preventive health check-ups. Overall per month we see approximately 4,000 footfalls.” They mostly come from countries like Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar and others to Medica. The hospital chain draws around 8 per cent of its income from medical tourism. 

They have already witnessed a sharp fall. Roy said that from 100 footfalls per day, the number has sunk to around 6 per day now. "This too will get dry up in the coming days" he felt.  

Business Standard is now on Telegram.
For insightful reports and views on business, markets, politics and other issues, subscribe to our official Telegram channel