After firmly clocking the aim of financial inclusion through the Digital India program, the government is now focusing on digitizing healthcare to provide quality medical care to all in the country. While launching the Digital India campaign, Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi vehemently spoke of his vision to create a digital India where people from every nook and cranny had access to quality healthcare.
The government’s concerted effort in the form of its e-health and m-health initiatives is aimed at providing cost-effective and timely healthcare services to its citizens, especially to those who are devoid of that in the remotest parts of the country. Through e-healthbacked by unique health ID or Aadhar number, the government is looking to make OPD appointment booking, accessibility to health records, pan-India exchange of patient information and medicine supply, among others, easy through the online mode.
While the government is taking steps to improve the situation of healthcare for the population through policy initiatives, there are several startups that are doing their bit to solve problems that the country is grappling with on the healthcare front by using technology, which has been the cornerstone for the success of many sectors.
The role of technology can be phenomenal in improving healthcare delivery in the country in multiple ways:
- To digitize patient records
- Finding a doctor and booking appointment
- Online pharmacy
- Most importantly, to connect people with doctors online to let them communicate with each other, from anywhere and anytime
- Data mining and its analysis to help come up with customizable solutions for different demography, age group and gender
Fixing core problem of doctor shortage
In the Indian scenario, access to quality healthcare had been a formidable challenge for long. The hard hitting reality of doctor shortage in the country makes doctors inaccessible for the needy, and at the same time puts a lot of burden on medical experts and healthcare infrastructure. This had been a pressing problem for decades now with a disheartening doctor-patient ratio of 1:1700 in the country. Innovative use of technology is helping multiply the availability of doctors in the country. A doctor is no more restricted to his or her geographical location.
Technology has certainly made the process of finding a doctor and booking an appointment simpler, but its best use is displayed in the way it has made communication between people and doctors possible, beating down the barriers of time and distance. Doctors, by being online, can reach out to patients from anywhere in the country, anytime, increasing their accessibility to million others. For users, it reduces the need to travel for minor issues or follow on care, thereby solving the issue of congestion in hospitals and clinics.
As top healthcare experts put it, around 70% doctor visits are not required and they can be dealt with online. By resorting to technology to let communication happen between patients and doctors, a huge burden is being taken off the latter, providing them more time to see patients who need to see them physically.
Bridging the urban-rural divide in healthcare
In the last two decades, India has seen massive economic, social and technological growth. While the effects of these have been greatly visible in urban settings, a major portion of the rural population have still been gaping at the benefits from far off and struggling to enjoy them in the same breath as their urban peers. Though multiple public-private partnerships have done some notable work to reduce this urban-rural divide, there is yet a lot more to achieve.
An area where technology can particularly play a revolutionary role is in providing access to quality healthcare to those in rural areas. Plucking the opportunities of internet penetration and adoption of smartphones by rural population, quality healthcare can be made available to those residing in far corners where accessibility to doctors is a huge issue. A country marred by doctor shortage, rural India is always on the receiving end as healthcare professionals chose to practice in either big metros or towns.
Healthcare communication platforms can solve this lingering problem by allowing communication between doctors and patients. A partnership with the government can make it happen far more easily by connecting the service to primary health centers (PHCs). The government-appointed ASHA workers can be enabled with a tablet or smartphone device that can not only help out people with online doctor consultation, but also provide critical health information to people, especially expecting mothers and aged people. Language is a key factor here for scripting the success story.
Data collation to devise unique solutions
Internet is gradually penetrating to interior parts of the country and can help hugely in a) data collation; b) uninterrupted flow of information and c) devising customizable technological solutions.
The structure mentioned above is of utmost importance, for India is a diverse land with varied ecological and geographical conditions. So, one solution that has a revolutionary impact at one place might well be a failure at another. For this reason, local solution needs to be carved out for local problems, and when there is information at hand relating to epidemiological data of human beings, coming up with affordable solutions in terms of healthcare infrastructure, medicines, healthcare delivery become easier with the help of technology.
The devices such as computers and mobile phones must be uncomplicated for rural people to use and support vernacular languages. This is what service providers in the domains of healthcare need to be sensitive about to be able to allow rural population to make best use of their offerings.
Portable healthcare equipment and automating process
Any equipment that is bulky and cumbersome is not the future of healthcare as they hamper scalability and make healthcare outcomes expensive. Technology is helping to simplify equipment and machinery to make them cost-effectivefor people. For instance, a machine that is portable is easier to be moved from one place to another to cover more population and make larger groups benefit from it. When large population is involved, the cost can be slashed to make it a win-win for both companies and the people.
Also, technology enables automating processes and machine learning, allowing more precision to come into the systems to detect disease, manufacture cost-effective medicine orgenerating customizable solutions. This leads to faster results by way of documentation, medical record keeping, quicker and precise analysis of data.
Technology has shown its efficacy in healthcare. The need is to propagate the benefits. Gradually, we are moving towards the future of healthcare which is spearheaded by technology itself. Meaningful alliances between government and technology disruptors will speed up the whole process and take healthcare delivery to a new level, for the good of the entire Indian population.
Inputs by Saurabh Arora, Founder & CEO, Lybrate, India’s first and largest online doctor consultation platform