Telehealth: Nagaland’s New Frontier
Healthcare facilities may be better equipped to fight the Novel coronavirus and the general public have more knowledge about the disease now than a few months ago but it may take some time to wipe away the fear of contracting the virus, especially from hospitals. With cases continuing to increase and no sign of slowing down any time soon, many prefer to stay at home. States like Nagaland that do not have good healthcare facilities suffer more than the others, as almost all popular hospitals, including the district hospitals were converted into Covid facilities to fight the emerging health crisis. Patients had to be either discharged or shifted to private hospitals following the move. Healthcare facilities that had once catered to hundreds of patients suddenly stopped providing essential health services. That did not mean there were no sick people in the state. It was just that many chose not to avail services either due to restrictions associated with the lockdown, high cost of treatment in private hospitals or fear of the pandemic. Ironically, many diseases were ignored during the lockdown period, especially in less developed states because of the fight against the new disease. People with severe health problems had to undergo untold sufferings. It was also reported that the shift of focus towards Covid-19 had caused lots of suffering to HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis patients and drug addicts as they couldn’t access the services they need. So, the resumption of normal health services at Naga Hospital Authority Kohima and District Hospital Dimapur is a welcome move. Other government hospitals in the state that were converted to Covid hospitals in the wake of Covid-19 outbreak should follow suit while earmarking a dedicated ward for Covid patients. This is necessary not only to cater to the needs of patients with other ailments but also for those who can’t afford to avail medical care in private hospitals.
The launch of Naga Telehealth by the government of Nagaland is also an interesting development. According to a study by Frost & Sullivan, the demand for telehealth is expected to increase by 64.3% nationwide this year due to the disruption in healthcare system caused by the coronavirus crisis. This method of providing health services through communication technologies like computers and mobile phones is not new but it received a fillip only during this crisis. The setting up of Naga Telehealth, which the state government plans to spread across all health and wellness centres in the state in phased manner, is one initiative that will enable the people access essential health services from the comfort of their homes. Through this telemedicine platform, which is now live, the people of the state especially those from remote areas can have real-time consultations from medical experts and qualified doctors. There are certain situations where telehealth may not be ideal like cases that require physical examination or laboratory testing to make medical decision, rural settings where telecommunication services are not available and personal issues that need privacy. However, if implemented well, this platform can be of great help especially during this pandemic as services for many health issues can be availed without visiting a hospital and it will drastically reduce healthcare costs too. What is needed now is to create awareness among the general populace about this service, which is relatively new to the people of the state.