Healthcare in India is at the cross roads. There are huge opportunities for Service providers for creating electronic healthcare records, picture archiving and communication systems, telemedicine, analytics and emergency healthcare. However, low budgets for this technology adoption among healthcare organizations continue to create point systems. But that’s also an opportunity for application integration for service providers.
By 2015, India’s healthcare sector’s total spend is projected to grow to nearly $45 billion. This throws up a lot of opportunities for IT players as more and more hospitals are adopting information technology apart from medical technology. Moreover, with new and upcoming applications such as telemedicine and e-prescriptions penetrating the healthcare vertical in India, IT investments on software would further increase with a focus on integrated billing and online availability of patient records across hospitals.
Mr. Aru Sudalaimuthu, Managing Director of Ma Volks Healthcare talks about how Indian healthcare is going through major changes, with the application of newer, better IT systems and applications. Adoption of IT has become one of the top priorities for the Indian healthcare companies. But most big healthcare organisations allocate only two to three per cent of their annual budget to IT expenditure. These percentages when calculated on a lower base seem insignificant as compared to US IT spends in actual dollars.
The advent and growth of health insurance has made a big difference, says Sandeep YN, a consultant employed with a leading IT service provider. Hospitals have recognized the importance of financial systems, and partnered with leading health insurance providers. Offering cashless and claim processing options, the hospital billing systems are integrated with claim processing systems of health insurance companies. That is lot of application integration – a one- to- many architecture, Sandeep says.
While such opportunities for improvement here, there is also a real challenge. Most healthcare companies do not spend much on IT. The implications are a lot deeper than what it would seem at first look. With a meagre IT budget, point solutions to specific functions are implemented. This creates different data islands. The customer data is entered separately in each system, and managed in silos. This results in precious time and information lost in case of emergencies.
Aru explains this – most of the ‘first’ healthcare IT systems are clinical data capture systems. They create basic details of patients. The patient’s records are in multiple locations – and if there are different test reports or doctor’s advisories or prescriptions, they may even be in different data storage locations. Hence, the first imperative is to unify patient information. This will help in terms of emergencies, says Aru. When a patient is in an emergency situation, and when some treatment is being administrated, it makes sound sense to have access to medical records of what prior treatments, illness or allergies that patient might have. Also in case of an inter-hospital transfer, this information catalogue would be help medical practitioners to act in emergencies with proper information.
This leads to another area called Analytics. With integrated data groups, one can easily understand the entire history and suggest methods of improving treatment methods for difficult and long term ailments. Analytics also gives inputs for preventive medicine.
With increasing IT applications and insurance penetration, the demand for EMR is expected to increase robustly in next few years. However, initially the scope of the services will be limited to the metro and Tier-I cities only, as Sandeep says. Sandeep has implemented TrackCare with Inter Systems in many hospitals in India.
With increasing focus on the implementation of hospital information system (HIS) in India, the market for instruments such as PACS will grow rapidly. However, its growth will largely depend on various factors including technology adoption and cost.
Several multinational companies like GE Healthcare, Siemens, McKesson, Microsoft, IBM, Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC), Perot Systems, Wipro, TCS, HCL and Cognizant, to name a few, have entered the services side of healthcare industry. There are specific pure services player coming out – their main focus is to deploy hospital information systems, and work on application integration.
Another area of opportunity is high-end diagnostic services, which requires huge capital investment for advanced diagnostic facilities, but can support a large number of patients in need. Besides, with Indian medical services consumers becoming increasingly conscious of their health, these applications will only find more acceptance and hence increased deployment.
Telemedicine is another fast emerging sector in India, especially so for startups and SMBs. Telemedicine also means remote data sharing like patient X-ray records and other details, and virtual conferencing or meeting solutions between a general practitioner and a consultant far off. These offer remote healthcare solutions, doctor appointment systems. In 2012, the telemedicine market in India was valued at US$ 7.5 million, and is expected to grow at a CAGR of 20 per cent to US$ 18.7 million by 2017.
According to Frost & Sullivan, the main requirements in hospitals of future will be connected to full scale integration of Information Technology platforms, more shareable information systems and standardization that can lead to easy and friendly information access on user friendly interfaces like tablets and smart phones.
In terms of technologies, companies also plan to strongly focus on product modification areas in terms of higher investments, the report said. “When your integrated solutions can allow software architects to create cloud based software designs, which helps easy administration, upgrade of software and maintenance is quicker and more efficient,’ says Aru.
Another development in the area of healthcare is advancement in PACS system. PACS (Picture Archiving and Communication System) is an increasingly essential part of the radiologist’s workflow. The continuous growth of CT and MRI applications, and other digital imaging drives the need for efficient image review and management solutions PACS has to offer. As the need for image processing grows, the demands on the speed and capabilities of image storage and visualization increases. PACS has become a crucial tool for communicating diagnostic results across healthcare systems, and is increasingly being integrated with other healthcare enterprise systems, such as image-enabled EHR/EMR and HIS. Because the use of images is expanding, and the technology is ever evolving, hospitals are starting to replace their initial PACS system to keep ahead of demands. Integration of PACS records into analytics takes patient care into a whole new level he says.
Another area is emergency healthcare. Right from a network of traffic management, ambulance and emergency healthcare workers, there is a huge scope in every city to integrate and manage medical emergencies better. Demonstration of heart transportation for transplant from one end of the city to another through peak hour traffic, have been demonstrated manually – in Chennai and Bengaluru. “With more organic transplantation cases coming up, an automated system to create green corridors or emergency healthcare transit services like ambulances can be made – this will involve creation of a management system that integrated with existing traffic governance systems and allowing traffic managers to create such corridors,” says Aru.
As we hurtle towards the mid-2015, we see the Government also realigning its mission of both urban and rural healthcare landscape in India. Long term programs, and leveraging of information technology to make the healthcare system deliver better, are big plans for Digital India, an ambitious project of the government. This only throws more windows of opportunity for Indian IT healthcare service providers.