Neurology and Telemedicine: The Way Forward
Keywords:COVID-19, India, internet, neurologist, tele-neurology
Objective: During the coronavirus-2019 (COVID-19) times, we have all learned to appreciate the advantages of communicating with each other on the digital or virtual format. This included both social, commercial and professional settings. This was necessitated through the restrictions on direct physical contact mandated by the pandemic. Through innovations and adaptations, the practice of medicine has also changed with telemedicine, triggered by ‘necessity is the mother of invention’ concept being embraced by both patients and physicians. Neurology, traditionally seen as a complex speciality and the preserve of a couple of thousand practising neurologists in the country, has opened itself up to the telemedicine or tele-neurology format very easily in the anecdotal and a few pilot studies conducted globally and in India.
Design: Despite the initial misgivings and anticipation of patient reluctance to adopt this technology, the real-world experience has been, to the contrary, where both young and old patients have readily embraced the new medium and cooperated with the neurologists to improve their care, which would otherwise have been severely restricted in the COVID-19 times. The neurologists have also adapted to the new way of working to deliver optimum diagnosis and care plans.
Outcome measures: There have been technical glitches (in form of internet connectivity, smartphone hardware and software problems and lighting and camera angle and image stabilization issues to name a few), which have been reduced with practice and innovation. Feedback from neurologists, patients, and their carers via regular audits and questionnaires are being circulated, and practice parameters are being improved (IFNR survey- Ref 5). The contribution of national regulatory agencies, such as the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW), and stakeholders, such as the Telemedicine Society of India (TSI), has been phenomenal to facilitate the tele-neurology practice and make it safe for all stakeholders.
Results: In a country of 1.37 billion population and only 2,500 accredited neurologists, there is a need for tele-neurology to be able to serve patients living in remote areas in mountains and coastal areas, and also in poorly connected areas on the plains. This becomes paramount for patients requiring specialised acute neurological care and to improve access, which now becomes a practical feasibility on the digital format to bring neurology to the doorsteps of the people.
Follow-up care of patients, epidemiological studies of various neurological chronic illnesses and their audit will become realities cutting down on costs and time to access quality neurological care using the digital format for 21st-century India.
Conclusions: Tele-neurology is no longer a vision, but a reality precipitated by the pandemic, the needs and aspirations of the Indian population, and the technological infrastructure India has achieved in the last 20 years.
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