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Chennai, NFAPost: On World Mental Health Day, which is observed on October 10, MFine, an AI-driven, on-demand healthcare service, has reported a surge in consultations for mental health since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It has also seen a three times growth in the number of speciality and super-specialty consultations conducted on its platform since March 2020.

The platform has observed an increase in the number of patients within a family using MFine and the demand for subscription packages has also increased 5X in the last eight months. Over 200,000 people use MFine every month to consult with their preferred doctors. To support the surge in telemedicine consultations, MFine has partnered with 300 new hospitals and added more than 2,500 new doctors in the last six months alone.

India faces an acute shortage of specialist doctors with 70% of the population having no access to specialists who primarily live in urban areas. Currently there are only 4,000 cardiologists in India, but the requirement is 88,000. Similarly there are around 23,000 paediatricians in India though the requirement is 2,30,000.

When it comes to mental health, the situation is equally bleak. More than 150 million people in India need therapy for their mental health disorders but less than 30 million people seek help. According to reports from the Indian Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, India has only 3,500 psychiatrists which is 1 psychiatrist for over 2 lakh people, and just 1,000 clinical psychologists. Providing safe primary healthcare is impossible without specialist doctors who ensure timely interventions, surgeries and continued treatment  of patients.

While the COVID-19 pandemic prompted users to consult on MFine for common health issues, the healthcare platform saw a phenomenal increase in consultations within the speciality and super speciality doctors, including consultations with psychologists. Post lockdown, as more of the workforce stayed indoors, the number of mental health consultations began to rise.

The most common issues include sleep disorders and insomnia, which increased tenfold during the pandemic. Currently on an average, more than 1,500 people consult every month on MFine for mental health issues such as anxiety, relationship issues and depression. Doctors have attributed most of these cases to the social distancing measures which have prevented people from meeting their friends and family or having proper work-life balance. Staying at home has also catapulted common lifestyle disorders and symptoms such as headache, abdominal pain, back pain etc. which have stemmed from inactivity and lack of fresh air. 

One of the major challenges the country is facing in the healthcare sector is the prevention and treatment of chronic diseases such as diabetes, cancer and heart diseases, the number of which are rapidly growing.

According to the World Health Organisation, 69.2 million Indians suffer from diabetes alone. The pandemic did pose a challenge to chronic patients who need to be continuously monitored without physically going to a hospital. But, these patients are also consulting on the phone and MFine has seen 4X growth in the fields of Diabetology, Endocrinology and Cardiology from patients who can no longer visit their doctors regularly. These patients are now able to consult with the best doctors in their field from the safety of their home. The demand for neurologists and pulmonologists also saw a 3X increase March 2020. 

MFine encourages patients to have follow-ups within a week of their first consultation, which has grown 3X during the pandemic. The company was amongst the first to offer users a self-assessment and COVID-19 support during the pandemic. More than 100,000 users took the MFine Coronavirus assessment on the app and around 80,000 people consulted for suspected COVID-19 symptoms.

Apart from the top metros, MFine has seen a spurt in users signing up from cities like Lucknow, Patna, Ahmedabad, Jaipur, Indore, Guntur and Visakhapatnam. Patients from Tier II and Tier III cities have started using MFine to consult specialist doctors from trusted hospitals in the metros and also from their own town. Doctors at MFine have reported that this year, patients have become more conscious of their health and are more observant about the smallest of symptoms, which has led to more preventative health check ups and follow-up calls. The company currently has 550 partnering hospitals and 3,500 doctors handling 10,000 cases/day over 30 specialities. 

MFine CEO and Co-Founder Prasad Kompalli said, “In the last 6 months, we have observed that patients who never used telemedicine earlier are now consulting with specialists from across India. The power of mobile has helped people from remote towns and villages get access to top doctors in the country.”

“The reality is that there is still an acute shortage of doctors in India and the only way to provide everyone with quality primary healthcare is through technology, AI and mobile. We hope to continue enhancing our tech to ensure that doctors can have even better diagnostic capabilities through mobile phones and we plan to scale our partner network in coming months to include more specialist doctors to treat patients remotely,” he added.

The app-based mhealth platform partners with leading and trusted hospitals instead of aggregating individual doctors. MFine users can consult doctors from their preferred hospitals via chat or video to get prescriptions and/or routine care. MFine was launched in December 2017 by Ashutosh Lawania and Prasad Kompalli who were later joined by Ajit Narayanan and Arjun Choudhary. 

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