Online consultation for healthcare has increased by 500 per cent between March 1 to May 31, 2020, according to a report by online portal Practo.
During the period, about five crore Indians accessed healthcare online with an average frequency of two online doctor consultations per month, per user, as per the report.
With healthcare professionals offering teleconsultation opportunities amid the pandemic, Practo recorded about 80 per cent first-time telemedicine users, along with 67 per cent drop in in-person visits. About 44 per cent of the users were from non-metro cities.
Of the total online consultations, 7.5 per cent were related to COVID-19 related symptoms. The average time spent with a doctor online was eight minutes.
A growth of 600 per cent was recorded in the overall ENT consultations, 50 per cent of which were by people aged 21-30. Ear infections, throat infections, stuffy nose and sinus symptoms were among the top-discussed queries. About 76 per cent males and 24 per cent females consulted online, from metro cities like Chennai, Hyderabad, Delhi, Pune, Mumbai and Bengaluru, and non-metro cities like Indore, Mangalore, Hoshiarpur, Jaipur and Nizamabad.
“We saw an inflated number of queries coming from people of all age groups during the lockdown for sinusitis as people became hyper vigilant of sore throats and nasal congestions. Most of the minor conditions can be treated based on a good clinical examination and assessment through teleconsultation. For those that require endoscopy or procedures, teleconsultation helps with initial examination and triaging,” Dr Jagdish Chaturvedi, Founder of HiiiH international and consultant, Fortis hospital, Bangalore, was quoted as saying in the report.
About 65 per cent males and 35 per cent females also sought online consultation for orthopedic issues, resulting in a 400 per cent growth in overall consultations in this field. About 75 per cent consultations were from metro cities and the rest from non-metro cities. Spinal issues and lower back pain were among the top queries, about 45 per cent of which came from those aged 21-30.
“After work from home, a lot of youngsters have been consulting us online for lower back pain problems. While it may seem like a generic problem, it is always better to take a doctor’s advice in treating these issues as compared to self-medicating as wrong medicines or even exercises may worsen the condition,” Dr Chandrashekar, Senior Consultant and Head of Orthopedics, Sakra World Hospital, Bangalore said.
People also took online consultation for digestion problems, accounting for 313 per cent growth in the overall gastroenterology teleconsultations.
The coronavirus-led lockdown stress coupled with summer heat also led to a 300 per cent increase in consultations related to skin health, with dry skin, hairfall, acne and heat-related skin conditions being the top queries. Of these 71 per cent were males and 29 per cent were females, from both metro (72 per cent) and non-metro cities (28 per cent).
Increased screen-time led to a 700 per cent rise in overall ophthalmology teleconsultations. “Being confined inside four walls has led to an increase in screen-time across age groups; be it the television, phones or laptops. Most queries were on dry eyes and related discomfort which is a result of irregular sleep patterns as well. In other words, insomnia at varying degrees has been an issue with some of the patients, which might be due to an increase in screen time,” Dr Vishal Grover, Ophthalmologist and Proprietor, Netrayatan Hospital, New Delhi, said. About 72 per cent of the queries were from males and 28 per cent from females, from both metro (79 per cent) and non-metro cities (21 per cent).
Besides physical health conditions, a 200 per cent growth was recorded in overall psychiatry teleconsultations, as per the report, 62 per cent of which was by people in the age group 21-30. Panic attacks, stress management, loneliness and anxiety problems were among the top concerns. Of the people who consulted, 74 per cent were males and 26 per cent females. About 68 per cent teleconsultations were from metro cities and 32 per cent from non-metro cities.
Tele-gynaecology saw a 250 per cent increase in overall consultations, 52 per cent of whom were females while 48 per cent were males from metro (72 per cent) and non-metro (28 per cent) cities.
“Pregnancy related questions have increased as the regular check-ups got disrupted due to the lockdown. The increased stress has resulted in irregular menstrual cycles for many as well. Digital platforms provide a great opportunity for people, especially women, to seek medical assistance from specialised doctors,” Dr Vanita Vaishnav, Obstetrician and Gynaecologist, Bangalore, said.
The overall paediatric teleconsultations increased by 350 per cent, with queries coming from 67 per cent males and 33 per cent females. Cough and cold, BCG vaccination, painless vaccination for infants, fever and headache in toddlers, motion problems, impact of delay in influenza vaccine and missed PCV vaccination cycle were the top health concerns.
Teleconsultations related to COVID-19 saw a 200 per cent increase between March and May 2020, 70 per cent being males and 30 per cent females, from metro (70 per cent) and non-metro (30 per cent) cities.
“Telehealth has multiple applications, optimal care and virtual care is possible and extremely helpful in a pandemic scenario like COVID-19. It uses high definition transmission and clarity to provide rapid, accurate and real time consultation from professionals with expertise. Healthcare professionals can evaluate, diagnose and treat in a seamless environment..Patients are proactively using healthcare to manage their health and telehealth is a great alternative and has the potential to reach exponential levels,” Dr CMA Belliappa, General Physician, Bangalore was quoted as saying by the report.