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Remote Care for Remote Areas: The Impact of Telehealth in Rural India

telehealth india

  • Researchers:
    • Amanda Dahlstrand-Rudin, Erika Deserranno and Andrea Guariso

  • Partners:
    • Healing Fields Foundation, JPAL

  • Location:
    • India

  • Sample:
    • 7000 households and 2000 health providers located across 400 villages in rural Bihar in India

  • Timeline:
    • 2022 - 2025

  • Theme:
    • Health, Technology

  • Description:
    • Remote areas in low-income countries have poor access to quality healthcare. One challenge in developing state capacity in remote areas is the difficulty in attracting skilled workers (doctors and nurses), to which a common solution is to engage less skilled workers (community health workers). A new solution is to bring higher-skilled professionals to rural areas through digital technology. Telehealth, which connects patients to qualified healthcare professionals via phone, provides a new opportunity for governments to reach remote areas with high-quality healthcare services at relatively low costs. Although the popularity of telehealth has dramatically increased since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is to date no causal evidence of its impacts in low-income countries.

      This project aims to provide the first experimental evidence on the impact of telehealth on healthcare utilization and health outcomes in low-income countries. The impact is ex-ante ambiguous: telehealth may expand access to healthcare in areas previously underserved by the health system, but it might also crowd out in-person care and lead to an overall drop in healthcare utilization by those most in need, who might be unable or unwilling to connect remotely with a health professional. The project will take place in 400 rural Indian villages that will be randomized into receiving telehealth or not, with or without a local facilitator, who will assist patients in connecting to the call and follow up with them after the visit. We will learn whether and under which conditions telehealth improves access and health outcomes for rural populations, and how it affects the divide in access by gender, income, and age.