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Telemedicine supported strengthening of primary care in WHO South East Asia region: lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic experiences
  1. Nachiket Gudi1,
  2. Rahul Konapur2,
  3. Oommen John3,4,
  4. Supten Sarbadhikari5,
  5. Mark Landry6
  1. 1 Public Health, Manipal Academy of Higher Education, Manipal, India
  2. 2 Ashoka University, Sonepath, Haryana, India
  3. 3 George Institute for Global Health, University of New South Wales, New Delhi, India
  4. 4 Prasanna School of Public Health, Manipal Academy of Higher Education, Manipal, India
  5. 5 The George Institute for Global Health, Delhi, India
  6. 6 Department of Health Systems, World Health Organization Regional Office for South-East Asia, New Delhi, Delhi, India
  1. Correspondence to Dr Oommen John, George Institute for Global Health, University of New South Wales, New Delhi, Delhi, 110025, India; ojohn{at}


The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the fragmentation of the healthcare delivery systems and highlighted the role of resilient primary healthcare systems for a robust public health response during health emergencies. Primary care while being the first point of contact between the citizens and the health systems has received scant attention or targeted investments over the past several decades. Through this narrative review, we aim to outline the potential role of telehealth in augmenting health systems capacity. While teleconsultations have increased exponentially during the pandemic, evidence suggests that utilisation of primary care for non-emergency and non-COVID-19 conditions such as chronic medical conditions has significantly decreased, suggesting that most telemedicine utilisation has been to address an immediate crisis. In countries with pre-existing national digital health framework and enabling regulatory environments, telehealth interventions while strengthening the public health response to COVID-19 also supported the continuum of care at the primary care level. Even after COVID-19 is controlled, telemedicine has the potential to address persistent obstacles to primary care in the South East Asia region, including scarcity of trained healthcare workers, access challenges and costs associated with in-person care. Telemedicine holds promise in strengthening primary care and has the potential to catalyse achieving universal health coverage.

  • COVID-19
  • health care facilities
  • manpower
  • and services
  • health services research

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  • Contributors Conceptualisation: OJ, NG. Manuscript draft: NG, RK, OJ, SS. Critical revision: ML. Approval of final draft: OJ, NG, RK, SS, ML.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient and public involvement Patients and/or the public were not involved in the design, or conduct, or reporting, or dissemination plans of this research.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.