How can small clinics and hospitals resume their services without putting their staff at risk?
Ever since the first confirmed case of Covid-19 in India, followed by a long nationwide lockdown from 25th March 2020, the country's major infrastructures have come to grinding halt. While a supply chain of essentials is still in place and functioning, the same cannot be said for the sector that is perhaps the most essential in the current situation: The Healthcare Sector.
Most of the private medical practitioners in the state, especially in metropolitans like Pune and Mumbai have stopped opening their clinics in the lockdown, despite the orders given by the Government. The primary reason that's driving this closure is the fear of close contact with possible Coronavirus infected patients. Given the situation, it is also extremely difficult to distinguish between coronavirus symptoms and normal fever, or normal cough and cold, leaving doctors and clinic staff sceptical about attending to patients. As a result, many patients having other non-corona related illnesses are struggling to get treatment and have to fend for themselves.
The Government of Maharashtra has issued orders to Doctors, requesting them to restart clinics. However, considering the safety of healthcare these private practitioners at the forefront, the order seems to be ineffective.
3000+ Clinics shut in Pune. More in Mumbai.
The Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) has identified more than 3000 clinics that are being shut amidst the current pandemic and have sent them warnings to resume practice, saying the closure will warrant action under the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897. Many dispensaries have also shut in the most affected areas. While the imposition from the government is coming out to facilitate patients, what can we do to protect the doctors and staff from catching the infection?
The Impact on Clinics
Since the closure and partial availability of healthcare services for illnesses not related to Covid-19, patients have started to self medicate, putting their health at risk. From the perspective of private practitioners, community health clinics, which serve many local families, are facing financial setbacks that may have lasting impacts. Clinic leaders are also struggling to maintain smooth cash flow and ensure the employment of their staff.
"It’s a general truth for all of us that we have been impacted financially, operationally, and in regards to capacity,” said a local clinic doctor, when asked about the impact of the current pandemic.
The age factor of many doctors is also adding uncertainties to the already unbalanced equation. "Practitioners above 60 years of age, and the ones who suffer from blood pressure and diabetes have kept their facilities shut as they are vulnerable to the infection,” said a senior paediatrician from Pune.
Another major concern for doctors and healthcare staff is the shortage of PPEs and N95 masks as they are being supplied to the COVID-19 care centres across the country. This leaves doctors vulnerable to catching infection if they come across an asymptomatic patient.
The Solution: Technology and Telemedicine
The need of the hour is to put forth an effective system that can reduce the risk of infection for doctors, clinic staff, and patients alike.
This can be done by filtering patients based on their location of stay (whether they live in a Covid-19 hotspot), primary symptoms and quantizing the potential risk they have of carrying the Coronavirus.
Technology can certainly make this possible. Using the patient's location history, we can securely identify the places they have been to, to assess if they might have come in contact with any Covid-19 patients. This can act as a primary filter for Doctors to attend to patients.
Telemedicine combined with the said filter can jumpstart our healthcare infrastructure and help it function with relative normalcy. If a certain patient is marked as 'High-Risk', they can avoid travelling to clinics and their main complaints can be attended to through video conferencing and a digital prescription can be provided for medications.
One interesting testament of such a telemedicine system comes out from San Diego, California. A small town called San Ysidro, coming under San Diego City, claims that 82% of their doctor visits are being done through telehealth platforms. Authorities say Telemedicine has allowed the medical side of San Ysidro Health Center to maintain relative stability.
Similar models will be extremely effective in our country where the Doctors to Patients ratio is 1:1500. Telemedicine and technology can become the backbone of Indian Healthcare Infrastructure.
We at Digishield have come up with an ingenious alternative for traditional medical consulting. Our platform can protect medical practitioners and their staff by quantizing and analyzing the risk of their patients being coronavirus carriers. Doctors can provide medical services through teleconferencing/video conferencing through our secure platform. To know more about DigiShield, visit www.digishield.me