‘Teleconsultation causing a delay’

With complaints of hospital admission denials and treatment delays continuing to pour in following the rise in COVID-19 numbers, hospital authorities have said that staff shortage is one of the major causes.

The shortage of doctors has also been attributed to a sizeable number of doctors sticking to teleconsultation without opening their clinics, which, according to hospital authorities, is leading to a pile-up of non-COVID-19 cases at hospitals.

In some other cases, hospital authorities have also alleged that the underplaying of symptoms by patients and doctors over teleconsultation had resulted in delayed admission in COVID-19 cases.

Prasanna H.M., president-elect, Private Hospitals and Nursing Homes’ Association (PHANHA), told The Hindu that doctors over the age of 60 were justified in sticking to teleconsultation, but the others continuing to consult only online was leading to a shortage of doctors. “They need to start working, taking adequate protection. It is up to the individual doctor’s conscience,” he said.

He also alleged that severe acute respiratory infection (SARI) and influenza-like illness (ILI) cases were being reported late because of misreading of symptoms. “Under normal circumstances, people would see a heart specialist for mild gastritis. Now, people are underplaying symptoms. They have to be honest with their symptoms. Of late, SARI and ILI cases are coming late and most of them are COVID-19 patients and we are not able to save them. Doctors too may miss out on the warning signs over teleconsultation,” Dr. Prasanna said.

Healthcare tech company Practo released a report last month revealing that five crore Indians accessed healthcare online in the last three months, recording a 500% increase in online doctor consultations since March, 80% of them were first-time users. The insights report also claimed that in-person doctor visits dropped 67%.

Who are in demand

Gynaecologists, general practitioners, and dermatologists were the most consulted specialists, accounting for 51% of the overall consultations, while tele-ENT specialists witnessed a 600% growth as seasonal allergies were confused with COVID-19 symptoms, the report stated.

In March, the Karnataka Medical Council (KMC) released a set of guidelines for teleconsultation, which included permission to consult online for “straightforward simple ailments” such as short-duration fever, cough, headache, and loose motion as a part of primary healthcare. It specified that the practitioner should have the previous medical record of the patient seeking e-consultation. It also mentioned that such virtual consultations were allowed if the practitioner did not need to examine the patient and if the patient was able to understand the prescription and could get clarity from the conversation.

H. Veerabhadrappa, president, KMC, said communication problems were also possible in teleconsultation.

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