26th February 2021: It might have seemed like 2020 forced everyone to slow down. But while we locked ourselves in within four walls, industries moved online, and many thrived on that shift. The gaming, shopping and streaming industries might come to mind, but the COVID-scare, lockdowns, and social distancing guidelines also fuelled the growth of the healthcare industry online.
Even before the pandemic, the digital healthcare space has been an alluring option for people seeking an alternative to the hours-long wait in a doctor’s office. It also offered a convenient solution to populations living in smaller towns seeking the quality consultations found in metros. But an inspection of healthcare online, and an understanding of its longevity, requires more nuance than a pre and post-COVID comparison. Loosely, I see doctors’ appointments on e-health platforms being split down the middle: there are minimum friction and high friction consultations.
The first kind, minimum friction consultations, are the type of doctors’ appointments that can be provided online by a specialised physician – namely, that the first consultation can be offered via the internet. A significant portion of doctors’ appointments, ranging from dermatology to sexual health, can be expertly, accurately and conveniently offered online. Patients can access premium medical advice even if it’s thousands of kilometres away.
With high friction consultations, a preliminary in-person appointment can’t be avoided. But even in such cases, digital consultations serve as a practical and easy medium to get second opinions through. And we’re looking at a healthcare system, revolutionised by the internet, that won’t be bound by national borders. People have always sought more affordable, experienced, and holistic medical expertise, and e-health platforms present the possibility of a patient based in India consulting an American ophthalmologist without flight tickets burning a hole in their pocket. In fact, this is already a reality. Recently my mother, who had to undergo an eye operation, was able to receive expert opinions from a doctor based in the US. I could see how reassuring the experience was for her – to have both her diagnosis and procedure be validated from a second set of accomplished eyes.
Virtual safe spaces
None of these changes are happening in an inaccessible bubble anymore, as COVID-19 has disrupted societal and cultural norms and spurred a movement of people seeking contactless medical advice. But these changes are buttressed in improvements in data and technology over the last five years, as well as the average Indian’s growing comfort on platforms online. Additionally, the government’s guidelines on telemedicine practices last year acknowledged the exigency of this young form of healthcare and recognised its legitimacy.
Bold Care, the men’s health and wellness startup I founded, has seen a surge of customers during the pandemic. There are also subtle changes in how these men have been approaching sexual health appointments. Traditionally, men face numerous inhibitions that hold them back from seeking necessary advice around their sexual wellbeing. But these past few months, we have noticed the anxieties around the setup alleviate, considering Bold Care provides minimum friction consultations. Customers benefit from having appointments in the comfort of their homes, and avoiding aspects they usually dread – whether it’s being vulnerable to a doctor in person, or it’s the fear of talking to the receptionist. E-health platforms offer a window into a future unshackled by this unease, and lights a path to an interconnected, safe and validating future.