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How has Indian healthcare industry benefitted from digital innovation, and what is the road ahead?

As healthcare organisations in India grapple with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, there are serious concerns being raised about India’s fragile and inadequate health infrastructure.

While the surge in the number of coronavirus cases during the second wave of the pandemic highlighted the shortcomings of the Indian healthcare system, it has brought to attention the fact that we are woefully under equipped to handle even the basic medical requirements of the population.

What is even more worrying is that it is virtually impossible to make up for this inadequacy. While one could try to build infrastructure and manufacture medical equipment and supplies, it is hardly possible to make up for skilled human resources. How does one produce qualified doctors and nurses overnight or even over the course of a year or two? In this rather dismal scenario, digital healthcare offers a much-needed beacon of hope.

Digital healthcare: a beacon of hope

As with nearly all other sectors in the world, digital innovation has proven to be a real tipping point in the healthcare sector globally. From startups to established tech giants, new innovations and emerging players in health technology are challenging healthcare organisations to redefine and reimagine the way they deliver value to patients.

Emerging digital healthcare solutions not only improve access to healthcare services, but they have the potential to create holistic healthcare ecosystems.

All health needs for a patient – from consultancy and diagnostics to medicine delivery, home healthcare, and remote patient monitoring can be served via these ecosystems, which will also help maintain comprehensive electronic medical records and build a patient’s longitudinal history.

In India, the penetration of mobile internet can prove to be the game changer for the healthcare sector. It will not only allow patients access to all of the above benefits, but also help caregivers provide better, data-driven care to patients.

India landscape and Covid-induced changes in healthcare

While digital technology offers hope for improving healthcare access and quality, it is important to understand that in India it still has a long way to go.

Unlike fintech or retail, the healthcare sector has been slower to join the digital revolution in India. There are several factors for this including legacy issues, medical infrastructure hurdles, digital access for all, and a reluctance to change.

In many ways, the COVID-19 pandemic has provided a much-needed stimulus to behavioural change among both patients and doctors. It has been a catalyst in pushing the adoption of virtual consults and diagnostic testing. The highly contagious nature of the COVID virus as well as the overwhelmed hospitals have acted as a deterrent for people to seek in-patient care and physical consults, where possible.

Healthtech startups are witnessing a surge in demand for telemedicine, video consultation, and remote patient monitoring services as well. The healthtech sector can leverage this to address the colossal shortfall of the Indian health sector for years to come.

From chronic ailments like cancer to diagnostic risk assessment, there are endless opportunities to leverage technology and artificial intelligence or AI to implement more precise, accurate, and impactful interventions at the right moment in a patient’s care.

Future outlook and benefits of digital healthcare in India

India ranks 145th among 195 countries in terms of quality and accessibility of healthcare, according to a Lancet study. There is one doctor for every 1,445 Indians, which is lower than the WHO prescribed norm of one doctor for 1,000 people.

Given India’s hugely overburdened healthcare system, scores of startups have mushroomed to help with various aspects of patient care. From providing ambulances, medicines, and oxygen to helping with AI-powered scanning for patients, many of these firms are working round-the-clock to tackle some of the problems in the current COVID-infested scenario.

Overall, however, the future of the healthcare sector in India lies in developing robust digital healthcare ecosystems that work with hospitals, doctors, caregivers, pharmacies and insurance companies to enhance the patient care continuum processes.

An end-to-end ecosystem that maintains a patient’s medical history and medical records digitally, monitors and alerts their vitals and allows for easy and regular virtual consults with primary and secondary specialist doctors is what will help meet the healthcare requirements of the vast populace.

Remote patient access and monitoring is another significant advantage of digital healthcare. It is tough for patients to travel to metros (where there is a concentration of multispecialty hospitals and doctors) for seeking treatment of everything from basic ailments to follow-up visits post major surgical interventions.

As COVID-19 has shown, a vast percentage of patients can be treated at home using tele consults. This not only eases the travel pain of the patient but also makes the interaction between the doctor and patient hugely time and cost-effective.

Leveraging digital technology for improving medical efficiency, improving doctor to patient or nurse to patient ratio, clinical decision support, risk assessment, and early alerting are among the most promising areas of development for the health sector in India.

There is no doubt that with digital tools and technology, healthcare providers will be better equipped to understand the ramifications of a post-Covid scenario and be better prepared to address the challenges and opportunities of the impending “new normal”.

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YS.)

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