The limitations caused by the COVID-19 pandemic are predictably the strongest driver of demand for telemedicine consultations; growth can also be promoted by the possible adoption of legislation allowing remote diagnosis and treatment submitted to the State Duma at the end of March.
Until 2020, the annual growth of telemedicine in Russia was projected at 10-15%, and the share of all digital medical services in the Russian economy could reach RUR 90 bln ($1.2 bln) by 2023. But the pandemic and the surge in interest to telemedicine have made us revise our previous forecasts.
Since the beginning of March, our call center has been receiving almost twice as many requests from Russian clients; other representatives of this market in Russia also report a noticeable increase in demand for remote medical consultations. The Russian telemedicine market can be expected to at least double by the end of this year, experts at the Etnamed concierge service provider predict.
The number of services is also growing. The Russian Ministry of Mass Media and Communications published a list of various remote healthcare services that could be useful during the lockdown and the list is expanding every now and then. The importance of remote consultations is becoming increasingly important during self-isolation. For example, doctors of the Moscow Healthcare Department’s telemedicine center are monitoring thousands of Moscow patients with COVID-19 who are currently recovering at home.
The telemedicine industry will be growing despite the predicted recession and customers’ lower purchasing power. The reason is, within the next two or three months, this kind of medical services will become more common and familiar. Many services are offering free help right now and planning to monetize the accumulated customer base when the restrictions are lifted.
Voluntary medical insurance also includes telemedicine services so that while in-person medical appointments are temporarily unavailable customers could still get medical advice. Remote consultations will be cheaper both for insurers and those who pay for medical services themselves than a visit to a private clinic.
Among the advantages of telemedicine during the coronavirus pandemic is that it allows for easing the burden on admissions units with non-urgent cases, provides preliminary sorting of patients in order to minimize the spread of the disease and prevent infections among medical personnel. It also offers an opportunity to monitor patients with chronic illnesses who are at higher risk of contracting COVID-19. All these advantages will be relevant after the pandemic as well, both at private and public clinics.
The processes that we are witnessing in Russia in this area are the same as the global ones. In many countries, the telemedicine market has grown significantly, while governments are liberalizing the relevant legislative framework. For instance, China’s JD Health reported that it has decreased the number of its monthly consultations tenfold since the start of the epidemic outbreak, while US President Donald Trump said measures will be taken to amend certain regulations to expand opportunities for the telemedicine market.
Russia’s government authorities and medical institutions have plenty of work to do to develop the telemedicine industry. Efforts should be taken to work out planning of consultations and mechanisms for triage, as well as issues related to payment for consultations and cooperation with the Compulsory Medical Insurance Fund and other insurers.
In addition, Russia’s healthcare sector has enough resources to remotely monitor patients with the use of self-diagnostic medical devices – however, these efforts are hindered by the lack of registered telemonitoring devices in the country.
By Andrei Barsukov, Co-owner of Etnamed federal concierge medical service provider