By Shuchita Gupta
As per the projections of Longitudinal Ageing Study of India (LASI), the elderly population in India is going to increase to 319 million elderly by 2050 from 103 million in 2011. Concomitantly, as the Indian development parameters improve, there is going to be steady increase in the life expectancy of elderly citizens and therefore, it is crucial that we, as a nation, pro-actively design and implement schemes to look after their health and expand the “healthy life” for this age group especially when 75% of them suffer from one or the other chronic disease, 40% have one or the other disability.
Healthcare can be viewed from three levels: individual, community and nation. At the individual level, one needs to be aware of and enable a continuous health regime to ensure a healthy life and postpone the onset of some chronic diseases. In addition to individual efforts, one requires robust health infrastructure, especially the access to a general physician and a specialist along with access to the latest drugs and injections. At the community level, a first aid centre with at least one health care practitioner to take care of basic treatment and round the clock emergency care. At the national level, policy makers need to understand the demographics and customize solutions for communities, districts or states to make sure that the country has a healthy population who can contribute to nation building. With regular monitoring of disease burden at community levels and enhanced public expenditure in the health related research and development, policymakers can make suitable steps to prevent, detect and respond to epidemics and pandemics.
In a vast country like India, both in terms of geography and population, telemedicine and care systems will be the two pillars that will provide strength to the mental and physical wellbeing of our ageing population.
Through India’s prowess in information technology a greater number of people can have access to services that might previously have been out of reach or unaffordable.
The biggest gap in the healthcare system which adversely affects elderly in India is inadequate local community clinics. Other problems include lack of trained healthcare workers, poor record maintenance and portability, low patient engagement and prescription compliance. Due to the pandemic, elderly people were restricted to their houses which inhibited them from getting regular surgeries.
In today’s world (especially during COVID) where we are working on various platforms and sharing information digitally, why can’t we have all health records stored online at one place irrespective of which doctor or hospital one goes to? With multiple players in primary, secondary and tertiary healthcare, physical data records get lost which creates health complications and repeat tests add to costs.
The health ecosystem consists of virtual care, remote monitoring, smart wearable devices and digital platforms. These platforms store health data and mobile applications enable remote data capture and exchange of data across the healthcare ecosystem. We can ensure continuum of care, irrespective of the geographical location or external circumstances like the pandemic. Moreover, with digitisation of lab reports and digital extraction of radiology data, we can improve the quality of diagnosis, treatment decisions can be data-driven and more efficient ensuring person-centred care.
With telemedicine and at-home healthcare services, we can reduce the burden of elderly patients visiting the clinics/ hospitals, while ensuring continuous home-based monitoring, even providing complex services like ICU set-up at home for the terminally ill. Telemedicine is not only video consultations, but also includes Vital recording, digital tracking and reminders through app, support during treatment (at home treatment), post-treatment care, medical history on cloud and all possible health related data from wearable devices.
To make any critical intervention in elderly care, we need to build trust in tech using the Digital public goods approach. We should leverage India’s platforms as public goods for Healthcare, similar to the digital revolution we have seen in Fintech. There should be adequate funding for Healthcare, both from the Government and the private investor community and VC firms. And last, but not the least, the customer or user experience must be pleasant, under Privacy by design framework.
(The author is the Co-founder of Care4parents. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of FinancialExpress.com.)