“We never give up on our patients. That’s our mission. To save and enrich lives,” says Dr Ashutosh Raghuvanshi, managing director and CEO, Fortis Healthcare.
Never has this mission been more pronounced in Fortis Healthcare’s two-decade history, than it is now. As the COVID-19 lockdowns impacted physical visits across the country, Fortis Healthcare began looking for ways to still care for its patients, without putting them at risk that a hospital visit entails.
Established in 2001, Fortis Healthcare is one of India’s largest health services providers serving 2.5 million people annually via its network of 28 hospitals, over 410 diagnostic centers, and 9,000 potential beds spread across Indian metro cities.
The COVID-19 outbreak posed an entirely new challenge to the institution.
“It was very important for us that we continue to provide care to our patients,” says Ajay Vij, CIO, Fortis Healthcare. “At the same time, we did not want them to risk coming to the hospital unless in unavoidable circumstances. It not only puts the patients at risk but also the doctors and frontline staff who are working at the hospital.”
Indian medical laws forbade hospitals to provide virtual consultations to patients, but they had to relax the rules due to the COVID-19 pandemic. To ensure continuity in serving their patients, Fortis Healthcare worked with Microsoft to deploy virtual visits on Teams. This enables patients to connect with doctors without having to step out of their homes.
It took the team at Fortis Healthcare just four days to implement Teams and start taking appointments from patients.
“In essential services, healthcare is at the top of the pyramid in the current health crisis,” says Jasrita Dhir, head of brand, marketing and CSR, Fortis Healthcare. “We went live with the system as soon as we could, and all consultations were free for the first few days. There was no question of delaying the launch of the platform.”
Microsoft Teams is HIPAA compliant, which ensures all patient information is managed privately and securely.
The doctor will see you now, virtually
To minimize inconvenience to its patients, Fortis Healthcare integrated telephonic and video consultations via Teams with their existing booking system. Patients book their appointments as usual, but they now receive a URL along with the time of the appointment. All they need to do is click on the link at the time of the appointment to talk to their doctor on Teams.
“Earlier, one would come on our website or app or called our call centre to book a physical consultation. The only thing that has changed is that now one gets the option to book a video or tele-consult based on their preference,” Dhir explains.
Depending on their case history, patients are asked to share diagnostics or other reports securely before the appointment. The doctor sees the patient, writes the prescription as usual, which is shared with the patient digitally.
“Teams has enabled our doctors who don’t need to be at the hospital to continue seeing their patients from their home, which reduces their risk of getting infected,” adds Vij.
Doctors at Fortis Healthcare echo the sentiment. For instance, Obstetricians still have to go to the hospital to deliver babies, but they don’t have to physically see patients in their first or second trimester in most cases. With Teams, they have been able to reduce the risk of exposure both for themselves and expecting mothers.
Dr Meenakshi Ahuja, Director – Obstetrics & Gynaecology, Fortis La Femme, opines, “In this new world order, where we don’t want our patients to unnecessarily be exposed to infections, our online video consults with the help of Microsoft Teams are a blessing. Most problems including hormonal, abnormal uterine issues can be sorted on these consultations, and our advice prescriptions with investigations are mailed to the patients. Only if physical presence is required, we call in the patient for an examination, therefore visits to the hospital are reduced. In fact, even in pregnancy, the early pregnancy check-up and counselling can be done by us with the patient and her partner in the comfort of their homes. As they say, necessity is the mother of invention, and these online consultation systems are bound to stay with us for a long time”
During COVID-19, a lot of focus has shifted to mental health concerns of a population under lockdown.
“Tele-consultations have been a huge help during the COVID-19 crisis, it has helped patients especially in chronic care specialties like mental health allowing the maintenance and continuation of treatment process which is so vital to the well-being of patients. Tele-consultations also helped people stay at home, be safe and at the same time were able to connect to their psychiatrists, their psychologists and continue with their treatment. Both from safety and health point of view this has been a very positive initiative by the government to allow tele-consultations. Our team has been using Microsoft Teams and found it to be a user-friendly platform and for us confidentiality and privacy are very important elements, using Microsoft Teams helped us with that,” says Dr Samir Parikh, Director – Mental Health & Behavioural Sciences, Fortis Healthcare
“We have also conducted live events through Teams, and it has helped us reach out to a wider population to raise awareness on mental health issues. I feel live events on Microsoft Teams is a very good way to reach to a maximum audience,” he added.
Since deploying Teams in the last week of March, Fortis Healthcare has done more than 12,000 consultations virtually.
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“In our endeavor to sustain our fight against the spread of COVID-19, we are bringing the expertise of our doctors to help you with any health issues right in the comfort of your home. As the proactive lockdown was necessary to fight off this pandemic, it must not be an excuse to delay any health consultations that our patients wanted to avail and, hence, is this solution. We believe that this is helpful for patients as well as their families without risking the much-needed social distancing for the patients, doctors and the healthcare staff,” adds Dr Raghuvanshi, the managing director and CEO of Fortis Healthcare.
“However, in emergency cases where clinicians feel it is necessary to physically examine the patient, e-consultations are not given. In those cases, an in-hospital consult where the doctor can do a physical examination is suggested. These are cases which require immediate and urgent medical intervention.”
The new normal for healthcare
While authorities have relaxed laws on virtual consultations to ensure people have access to doctors during the current situation, healthcare providers like Fortis hope it continues in the post-COVID world too as they see numerous benefits including making quality healthcare accessible to everyone.
As we all adapt to the new post-COVID normal, maybe virtual healthcare will fit right into the plan.