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A doctor on your phone

A new wave of apps is letting you skip the queue and talk to doctors online any time you want

The lack of basic health infrastructure in the country is the primary reason for the growth of such apps.
The lack of basic health infrastructure in the country is the primary reason for the growth of such apps.

While explaining the features of 17-month-old doctor-consultation app DocsApp, its co-founder and chief technology officer, Enbasekar D., draws parallels with Uber and Ola. “Just how you access taxis minutes after requesting them, similarly, you could access a doctor after filling a basic form about your health problem via the app," he says.

With over 1,000 dermatologists, gynecologists, psychologists, pediatricians, oncologists, sexologists and other doctors on board, the patients can contact doctors round the clock, seven days a week, without waiting in queues. Hence, a growing number of smartphone users, especially in the age group of 18-45, from metros and tier I, II and III cities are using apps such as DocsApp to seek health solutions.

Supriya Rathi, 26, a graphic designer living alone in Bengaluru, has in the past six months consulted a dermatologist, a counsellor and had a blood test taken at her office via DocsApp.

Rathi first tried the app to consult a doctor for a rash on her hand. Within minutes, she was talking to a dermatologist on the app’s text chat feature, explaining her symptoms. “I knew the cause and the cure of the condition within minutes, and that too at 12.30am," says Rathi.

In the past five years, more than 20 doctor-consultation apps have emerged, such as Practo, Lybrate, JustDoc, CureInstant, GenieDoc, ICliniq and VISIT. These apps perform a range of functions, from helping you locate a specialty doctor in your locality to allowing you to do a whole consultation via chat, call or video call. Some also record your medical history, help you get a blood test at home or office and even get medicines delivered to your home.

The lack of basic health infrastructure in the country is the primary reason for the growth of such apps. “Every time we have to see a doctor, we have to commute some distance away and then wait in queues to talk to a doctor for just 10-15 minutes," says Satyendra Verma, chief operating officer of Mobile10X, which is an Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) initiative to boost the apps economy in India. “These apps are bridging the gap between a doctor and a patient. And as experts believe that 70% of health problems can be solved online, this sector is sure to grow."

Apart from being a quicker alternative to visiting a doctor, these apps are also useful for those embarrassed to be seen visiting, say, a sexologist. There is also a group of users who uses the apps to get second opinions, says Saurabh Arora, founder and chief executive officer of Lybrate.

Even for those 30% patients that need physical examination, these apps help them find an experienced, qualified doctor close to home.

Doctors are happy enrolling on these apps. “They are a great way to get more patients and make extra money," says Dr Gowri Kulkarni, a Bengaluru-based family medicine specialist and also a counsellor and psychiatrist with DocsApp.

Some individual doctors have even created their own apps. Mumbai-based diabetologist Pradeep Gadge spent Rs5 lakh to launch his app, called Gadge Diabetes Care, in September. “Many of my patients are from Gujarat and Rajasthan. Hence, it’s easier for them to follow-up with me over the app than spend to come to Mumbai," says Gadge, who first does a physical examination of his patients. “Many doctors do not agree with treatment over the Internet, but I think when it comes to lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, where follow-ups are only based on reports, treatment is easier over an app."

The scope for these apps is tremendous. In the future, the apps can be integrated with self-examination devices, enabling patients to take their own blood tests and X-rays and share the results with doctors.

There are still some who are nervous about talking to a doctor they don’t know on an app. And it is advised to check the background and qualifications of any doctor you are speaking to online. Language barriers could be another hurdle. “Apps are working on multilingual and translation features. When introduced, another 10-30% population will access them," says Verma.

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