By Ravi Chandra
The Indian healthcare system has witnessed a paradigm shift in ensuring quality healthcare delivery to citizens in the last decade. Increasingly, technology has been leveraged for better reach and patient care. The application of digital technologies including artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), data analytics, internet of things (IoT), cloud computing, and robotics is increasing in each facet of the healthcare system.
Global consulting major McKinsey estimates that the size of the digital health market globally is likely to reach $515 billion by 2024 which was around $350 billion in 2019. India has been one of the fastest adopters of these emerging technologies for better healthcare delivery for its more than billion population. And the COVID pandemic period saw the accelerated pace of these applications.
India’s flagship COVID-contact tracing and vaccination status app – Aarogya Setu (CoWin) – is a case in point. With more than 190 million registered users, the country crossed the two billion vaccination milestone recently through the active usage of the CoWin app. This cloud-based IT application is now being considered to be repurposed as a platform for universal immunisation, and blood donation among others. India’s National Telemedicine Service – eSanjeevani is another instance that showcases how technology can be leveraged to provide quality healthcare in the remotest region of the country. The platform has recently crossed the milestone of completing five million consultations. Given the success of eSanjeevani, it has recently been integrated with Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission (ABDM).
Interestingly, Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission is one of the most ambitious programmes in the Indian healthcare ecosystem that seeks to create a single digital platform for the entire healthcare ecosystem. The main components of ABDM are ABHA (Ayushman Bharat Health Account), Healthcare Professionals Registry (HPR), Health Facility Registry (HFR), and Health Information Exchange & Consent Manager (HIE-CM). These initiatives indicate that technology and healthcare are going hand in hand for better healthcare delivery.
In a country with a billion-plus population, the healthcare system always has scope to improve. In India, this scope is very large. The critical vulnerabilities of the Indian healthcare system got exposed during the peak waves of COVID-19. The problem was more acute in tier-II and III cities along with the rural region. The lack of basic healthcare facilities, doctors, and nurses was glaring. Though technology is being leveraged to bridge these critical gaps, it has to be more widespread with the participation of private players to overcome the current challenges.
Especially, Outpatient Department (OPD) services are the most neglected aspect of the entire healthcare chain. Historically, OPD services are the most fragmented even though it accounts for nearly 70 percent of India’s $370 billion in healthcare spending. Therefore, digitalisation of OPD services is essential for realising the true potential of technology in the healthcare sector.
The changing times also demand the same. Post pandemic, many companies are adopting the flexible operating model. So, many employees of most emerging sectors such as IT and the startup world, continue to work from home (WFH) in tier-II and III cities. So, the demand for quality healthcare is very high in those centres now. This throws open huge opportunities for healthtech companies that provide digital platforms powered by various emerging technologies. From medicine delivery to doctor consultations and lab tests, there is a need for a virtual revolution for effective service delivery.
Hearteningly, online presence amongst healthcare service providers in small cities and rural areas is gaining traction. Such a rising digital presence augurs well for all stakeholders of the healthcare system. Because digital presence makes the care providers discoverable online and enables them to service the requirements coming through online platforms from nearby patients.
Therefore, any movement towards digitalisation has to begin with the digital presence of healthcare providers across the length and breadth of the country. Otherwise, most healthcare innovations will remain an urban phenomenon. So, both government agencies and private healthcare providers including healthtech companies have to tango together in making it possible. This will enable India to drive a true healthcare revolution that can be emulated by many other nation-states.
(The author is co-founder and CEO of MedPay. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of FinancialExpress.com.)