COVID-19 has accelerated digital transformation efforts in many countries. A key priority behind this progress has been to increase the reach and relevance of public services – particularly those focusing on saving lives and livelihoods. Telemedicine, healthcare services delivered through digital and other means, is proving important in the context of stretched or unavailable health systems. And, it could have a significant role in any post-COVID-19 world.
Its impact in Pakistan hints at this potential. By December 2020, the country has recorded more than 451,000 COVID-19 cases – resulting in over 9,000 deaths. A country wide lockdown imposed in March 2020 inhibited many patients from getting timely treatment for COVID-19 and other related issues in an already fractured and sprained healthcare system. Even as the lockdown was lifted in May 2020, many hospitals struggled to cope up with increased demand for qualified healthcare professionals to deal with the ongoing pandemic. Since November 2020, Pakistan has seen an increased surge in daily cases to over 3,700 in early December; the situation in the hospitals remain dire due to lack of resources and increasing number of cases.
Like in many other countries, patients in Pakistan are scared to visit hospitals to avoid COVID exposure. Elderly, pregnant women, and patients with pre-existing health conditions are at higher risk while also being more in need of medical help at all times. During this time of the ongoing pandemic, telemedicine is playing a pivotal role in acting as an enabler to help many patients in need.