by Dr Satyender Goel
Healthcare worldwide is moving to digital and the current Coronavirus pandemic has acted as a big spur. Telemedicine, remote monitoring of patients, self-monitoring of one’s health using state-of-the-art digital devices and standalone kiosks, and digital devices to catch the onset of ailments in the early stages have now matured.
The central piece of the global healthcare market is undoubtedly digital though the market is widely diversified ranging from private systems (USA) dominated, the government offered (most of Europe, Canada, Israel etc.), hybrid (Australia, UK), to out of pocket (e.g., India) options. In all these markets, the evolutionary digital healthcare footprints started with Telemedicine which has taken the centre stage over the last five years. This has gone a long way to reducing some of the shortcomings like the high cost of primary care consultation, non-availability of experts in rural and remote areas, which was further ramped up exponentially by the COVID pandemic.
Then came about platform/data-centric services like pre-categorisation of patient needs before specialist/doctor consultation, AI/ML tools for best possible symptom-based auto-diagnosis, data-centric diseases management, and conventional digitisation of services like medicine order/delivery, labs, wellness services including yoga, fitness consultation, healthy food etc., and disease management where diabetes took the main stage.
Digital health and wellness care have taken roots in India and the spread of these roots was rapid due to the pandemic. Digital gadgets have, in a way, become the home doctor or a bedside doctor. Portable and handheld gadgets to check sugar levels, blood pressure, blood oxygenation levels, teleconsultation, measuring calorie burnouts daily, and home delivery of medicines are now part of many households in metros and urbanised Tier-2 cities. This has helped in the prevention and management of lifestyle diseases.
However, India’s healthcare issues are not just urban-centric. India is demographically diverse and there is a dire need to cater to the large 1.3B+ population affordably, with a highly customisable services layer, and at a rapid scale. This is where digital healthcare technology has a vital role to play.
Unlike the west, the digital healthcare ecosystem in rural India has to be not only human-centric but also accessible and technologically compliant. This would include power issues and unstable internet connectivity. Such technological gadgets and platforms should be ruggedly fit enough to address the issue of the remoteness of many places and at the same time solve the primary access problems of 90% of rural India. This in turn can help prioritise the needs of the remaining 10% of chronically-ill patients who would need hospitalisation or surgical intervention.
Digital healthcare should be able to offer comprehensive end-to-end digital offerings for all primary care and wellness needs of people without the geography, profession, and social barriers. And it should be scalable to cover all 600k+ villages with a dedicated clinical team via telemedicine.
That said, to address problems and issues in India, all technological platforms should be built on international clinical standards and allow patient data and doctors consultation via a standardized portal. Any consultation and data hosted on digital platforms should be interoperable with India’s unique and ambitious National Health Digital Mission portal and should expedite NHDM goals for digital India.
All digital healthcare technological offerings should be finetuned to accelerate the digital India mission and put India on the world map for leading the true digital health revolution.
Hospitals in the private sector are rapidly adopting digital healthcare and providing patients with easy access to doctors and wellness programmes. Corporates now have a better means to improve the employee experience by having a single point of access to all healthcare-related services through digital healthcare.
This is just the beginning. Healthcare in India (like most countries) will go through a development phase over the next five before it can truly achieve digital goals and status like the financial and retail industries have. The system requires an overhaul in making healthcare consumer-centric and getting away from the idea of hospitals/govt./employer/insurance provider driving the decisions for patients/users.
In the next 10 years, people should be informed of health impacts in real-time, there will be more preventive and proactive decisions in everything from what to eat, when to sleep, what makes them happy, stress-inducing activities, participating in clinical trials, accessing services from anywhere in the world, and more data-driven (AI/ML) clinical solutions than actual medicines.
For this to happen, there should be a change in healthcare perception from reactive to preventive; digital healthcare should be the backbone to provide health coverage to the entire India without exception; it should be cost-effective to cover the bottom tier requiring government sponsorship. The technologies should be customisable to match diversity in demographics, language, food habits, and accessibility of the Indian population. At the same time, a standard of interoperability should be created without requiring heavy infrastructure investment.
Digital healthcare in India has a vital role in reducing the burden of non-communicable diseases. Lastly, the right atmosphere should be created to allow research for clinical solutions specific to India.
All this is possible as digital healthcare has now become part of India’s engines of growth.
Dr Satyender Goel, Founder & CEO, India Health Link
(DISCLAIMER: The views expressed are solely of the author and ETHealthworld does not necessarily subscribe to it. ETHealthworld.com shall not be responsible for any damage caused to any person / organisation directly or indirectly.)