When Chennai resident Latha Ramesh’s father fell sick in August last year, her options for help were limited. Covid was still rampaging through the country, nearby clinics were shut, and hospitals were both crowded and risky. Racking her brain for a solution, she remembered a WhatsApp message about an app, eSanjeevani, that offered free teleconsultations from the safety of her home.

Ramesh downloaded the government-run app on her smartphone and sought help. Within ten minutes, a doctor from Dharmapuri—a town 300 kilometres away—flashed on her screen. After describing her father’s symptoms to the doctor, he was diagnosed with a urinary tract infection and prescribed medicines to treat it. He didn’t improve. The next day, she noticed a terrible swelling on one of his legs. 

Suspecting a misdiagnosis, she went back to the app. This time around, she was connected to a Dr Sivakumar from Dindigul—a city around 420 kilometres away. Over the course of a video call, the doctor was able to correctly diagnose her father’s condition as lymphangitis, an infection of the foot. He prescribed a course of antibiotic injections, which was duly administered by a local health worker hired by Ramesh.

Ramesh is one of over 2.1 million Indians who have benefitted from eSanjeevani benefitted from eSanjeevani Press Information Bureau Govt’s telemedicine service completes 3 million consultations Read more over the past year. The platform was originally meant to connect doctors at government medical colleges with workers at local health centres for the purpose of training. It was retooled as a free telemedicine platform just as Covid’s shadow touched Indian shores, with its current avatar launched by the central government in April 2020.

Of the three million-odd consultations eSanjeevani facilitated as of 17 March, around 900,000 were arranged by health workers. The remaining ~2.1 million were sought directly by patients. On a daily basis, eSanjeevani now holds 35,000 consultations pan-India, according to the health ministry. Ministry officials anticipate this number will cross 100,000 by the end of 2021.

Largest telemed network

Union health minister Harsh Vardhan has even grander ambitions. At a review meeting in August 2020, he told attendees that eSanjeevani has the potential to handle 500,000 consultations every day

The health ministry doesn’t see eSanjeevani as an end unto itself, but rather a vital cog in the healthcare machinery. If ministry officials are to be believed, the plan is to link the telemedicine service with unique patient health IDs, an ongoing initiative under under The Ken Behind the rush and hush of India’s National Digital Health Mission Read more the national digital health mission (NDHM).