With Delhi’s health-care system stretched thin, tele consultation services hit
With the health-care system in the national capital overwhelmed by the tsunami of Covid-19 cases, tele consultations services of most hospitals have also taken a hit.
Many in home isolation complained of unavailability of slots and delayed response time from overburdened doctors, even as beds for Covid-19 patients remained in short supply.
Mahant Ahuja, a resident of Alaknanda who was tested positive for Covid-19 on Monday, said, “I had very mild symptoms -- slight fever, cough, and sore throat -- during the first two days. We cannot go to hospitals directly in the present situation and that’s why I tried to book an appointment for a virtual consultation. But it took me two days to reach a doctor. I was told that slots were few due to the unavailability of doctors. I am grateful that my condition did not deteriorate in the meantime but the situation is scary for those having moderate to severe symptoms.”
Several other Covid-19 patients are facing similar issues. Anamika Kapur, a resident of Green Park, said she placed a request for online consultation with a private hospital for her Covid positive mother on Sunday and did not get a response even after three days. “My mother’s oxygen saturation dropped to 70 (from an optimum of 95%) in that time. Finally, we had to contact a general physician providing telemedicine services in my locality to start her treatment on Tuesday,” she said.
Several hospitals and tele consultation services acknowledged that the facility has been hit by the raging pandemic. Dr Alexander Kuruvilla, chief health strategy officer on digital health app ‘Practo’, said the number of requests for tele consultation has increased by five times in the last 20 days.
“The spike was mainly for general medicine . There are complaints of unavailability of slots as doctors on board with us are not available -- they are stretched by the existing situation. It was challenging for us to respond to the sudden surge and it takes time to get more doctors on board. The situation is getting better now and it will further improve in the coming days,” he said.
Officials at a few private hospitals said they will have to step up measures to meet the increasing demand for over-the-phone consultations. Prashant Singh, Director IT, and CIO at Max Healthcare said the number of patients reaching out for tele consultations has surpassed the number of patients seeking in-person consultations. “Our doctors are fully occupied with Covid patients right now but we do not have any other option other than tele consultations in the present scenario. We have reduced the timing of each slot so that doctors can attend to more patients,” he said.
An official at the tele consultation department at Aakash Healthcare Super Speciality Hospital in Dwarka said they have prepared roasters for doctors to divide their time between in-person and tele consultations. “We are trying to connect patients with available doctors on the same day itself. But our doctors are occupied with Covid patients and a few even have Covid cases at home,” said the official.
Meanwhile, independent practitioners are also flooded with tele consultation requests. Dr Rachna Kucheria, a general physician in South Delhi, said, “The number of calls I am getting are unprecedented and 98% of those who call have Covid symptoms. Besides Covid-related queries, I am also getting calls requesting beds and oxygen,” she said.
Kucheria, founder of DocGenie Telemedicine, said it is important to strengthen tele consultation services to take the load off the health-care system. “It’s time to pool together general physicians at the community level to step up tele consultation services. It’s very challenging for doctors to manage hospital patients and telemedicine consults both,” she said.