Mr Vasant G Shah, VP & Head, Medical Electronics Business Unit, Tata Elxsi.
Q: How do you define Telehealth and its tools? How can it transform the Indian healthcare scenario?
Although, Telehealth and Telemedicine are used interchangeably but to define Telehealth in its entirety we must first understand Telemedicine. Telemedicine is used to bridge the gap between patients and provider through electronic information and telecommunication technologies where they are separated by long-distance. While Telemedicine focuses on remote diagnosis and treatment of chronic diseases, Telehealth can refer to remote non-clinical services, such as patient and professional training, skill development of healthcare providers and administrators, in addition to clinical services. So with Telehealth, focus is on health rather than illness.
About the second part of the question, Telehealth has a huge potential in a country like India. Although, we have a well planned three tier public healthcare system in place, a large portion of rural Indian population is medically underserved. This is mainly due to the acute lack of care providers. While 70% of patients are from the rural areas, 75% and 23% of qualified medical practitioners are in urban and semi-urban areas respectively. To put this in perspective, Chennai has more neurosurgeons than entire North-Eastern part of India. Such a scenario only makes case for Telehealth more compelling. Since it is more cost effective and economical, Telehealth is one of the best options for healthcare services delivery for distant and remote areas. Using available telecommunication and information technology, it is quite possible for a rural dweller to consult a medical specialist without travelling to visit a healthcare facility which could be located hundreds of kilometers away. The only challenge is to integrate Telehealth in our existing healthcare system and benefit public at large.
Q: How big is Indian Telehealth market and its current and future growth rate? Which are the potential growth factors?
Telehealth in India is in its nascent stage so estimates vary widely. If you go by reports from some leading research firms, current size of Telehealth market in India could be anywhere between $15 million-$500 million. One thing is for certain that Telehealth market in India is enormous. Just to give an idea, about 70 percent of our population is rural, that would be at least 700 million people. Even if we could enable 10 percent of total medical consultations from rural population through Telehealth the market potential is huge.