In some Asian countries, telemedicine is ‘not optional but mandatory’

The Korea Telemedicine Association held an online conference Thursday, sharing the status of telemedicine in Asian countries and looking for future directions for its development.
The Korea Telemedicine Association held an online conference Thursday, sharing the status of telemedicine in Asian countries and looking for future directions for its development.

There are countries where telemedicine has become a necessity rather than an option.

Some Asian countries, concerned about the gap in medical infrastructure between regions, see telemedicine as a breakthrough. For example, telemedicine has become a new routine in Vietnam with the active participation of medical institutions. India is also seeking to bridge the socio-economic gap by operating a state-run telemedicine platform.

In the online academic conference organized by the Korean Society of Telemedicine, telemedicine experts from Asia came together to share the current status in their countries of telemedicine and seek directions for development.

In Vietnam, where medical gaps are still wide between various medical regions and institutions, the government is making all-out efforts to introduce digital healthcare along with the development of information and communication technology (ICT). Amid this trend, interest in telemedicine has increased, and on the occasion of the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Southeast Asian country has revised its medical law to temporarily allow telemedicine.

As a result, nearly 8,000 institutions have provided telemedicine, and provided more than 3 million treatment services as of June.

The key lies in the relationship between higher and lower level medical institutions. “The central hospital plays a huge role in providing remote medical treatment, surgical cooperation and educational programs for other medical institutions,” said Heu Lan Nguyen, director of Hanoi University Medical Hospital. “Now, telemedicine is the new normal in intensive care units in Vietnamese hospitals.”

Vietnam implements telemedicine with an emphasis on collaborative treatment between medical institutions.  In the Southeast Asian country, telemedicine-grafted intensive care units are the new normal.
Vietnam implements telemedicine with an emphasis on collaborative treatment between medical institutions. In the Southeast Asian country, telemedicine-grafted intensive care units are the new normal.

Thirty institutions now play a pivotal role as central hospitals. Hanoi Medical University Hospital is one of them. One hundred and twelve medical institutions participate in the hospital’s telemedicine system. Twelve new treatment centers were also opened to provide telemedicine exclusively through contacting the hospital’s medical staff.

Despite the rapid growth, telemedicine services are still limited. Like Korea, Vietnam has tasks that must be solved in law and institutions. We are also concerned about creating an economic compensation structure for tele-collaboration and telemedicine. However, the government has a strong will to develop the telemedicine system. Therefore, we expect institutional problems to be resolved quickly.”

India has created a state-run telemedicine platform to solve social and economic problems

India has chosen telemedicine as a solution for its urban focused medical infrastructure.
India has chosen telemedicine as a solution for its urban focused medical infrastructure.

In some countries, governments have established telemedicine infrastructure. One such country is India, where the medical infrastructure is highly concentrated in cities.

According to Shashi Jogja, president of the non-profit Society for the Administration of Telemedicine and Healthcare Information (SATHI), the healthcare vacuum in rural India has worsened since 2005, 17 years from now.

The rate of unsatisfied physicians in primary medical institutions in India increased from 17.5 per cent to 21.8 per cent. The situation is more serious in private care. The uncompleted rate of medical professionals at the county’s medical institutions jumped from 47.7 percent in 2005 to 68.0 percent 17 years later.

More than two-thirds of the Indian people live in the provinces, but the medical infrastructure has not improved as well as in urban areas. Even skilled doctors don’t want to work in counties that have poor infrastructure, lack basic equipment, including an X-ray machine,” Jogja said.

There is a cost gap of more than 100 times for the same treatment between rural and urban medical institutions. Nor can people ignore the transportation expenses. Some statistics indicate that patients in rural areas have to wait on average 1.5 years and travel 1,000 kilometers to receive treatment from specialists. However, people stop working and go to a specialist in the city “without eating or sleeping properly” for several days.

All of this explains why telemedicine is considered to belong to socio-economic areas outside of medical care. Telemedicine reduces medical expenses. The head of SATHI said that people do not have to travel hundreds of kilometers to receive medical treatment and can continue their work.

The quality of regional healthcare has also been improved. District doctors can build their skills through collaboration or distance education. He can also provide immediate assistance to a patient in an emergency, Jogja said. In general, the scope of medical services will expand.

The state-run telemedicine platform has been run by the Indian government since 2018.
The state-run telemedicine platform has been run by the Indian government since 2018.

The state-run telemedicine platform, eSanjeevani, was launched by the Indian government in 2018. Managed by the Ministry of Health and Social Care, eSanjeevani provides telemedicine services between doctors and doctors and telemedicine services between doctors and patients. The medical staff is also trained here. Through the government-provided platform, doctors perform video therapy in real time and provide prescriptions. The medical data accumulated here is also reflected in the government’s health care policy.

The platform has grown rapidly as the world has been hit by the Covid-19 pandemic. The total number of tele-collaborative treatments has reached 58.6 million since 2018. A total of 18,883 Indian physicians are registered with it, and 30,836 physicians are also working on eSanjeevaniOPD, a home care platform.

About 67 million patients had received assistance from this service as of September. “We aim to help 1.3 million Indians enjoy the benefits of digital health infrastructure,” said Jay Ganesh Udayasankaran, Senior Director of Healthcare Information Technology and Telehealth. “With eSanjeevani, patients can access professional healthcare with greater ease and convenience and receive ongoing care.”

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