Transforming India’s healthcare: Health systems digitisation

The adoption of telemedicine by doctors in India at the peak of the pandemic across the three major regions of India, according to analysts, was 80 percent in North India, 50 percent in the South and West, and 35 percent in the East.

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The digital revolution experienced an enhanced drive due to physical restrictions imposed by the pandemic. (File)

By Dr.Nitendra Sesodia

The gap between healthcare delivery and digitization is narrowing daily. Global health systems have continued to evolve, especially in the area of information technology (IT) penetration. In a country like India where 1.6 million people died in 2016 due to poor quality health care, more stakeholders in the health sector are increasingly searching for solutions to address quality and cost issues. Hence the need to adopt digital technologies in health systems to drive enhanced clinical outcomes and improve multi-faceted access and delivery for patients.

Health spending across the world has been on the rise in the last 10 years, taking up a large chunk of the average man’s income. In India, the average health expenditure per capita was USD 64 in 2019, up from USD 38 in 2009, according to Knoema. Health spending has continued to grow in India at an average rate of 6.91 percent annually, owing largely to an aging population that requires increased medical attention. What this means is that the rate of hospital visits per person may have increased in recent years, but until the pandemic, this pace wasn’t matched by health systems digitization.

One of the most important areas of the collaboration between health systems and digitization is the patient consent documentation process which is currently being digitized by IT providers in the health sector. This hybrid empowers the patient with the right knowledge for informed decision-making while creating awareness through digital tools. This digital consent for hospitals also bridges the gap of seamless communication between health workers and patients.

2022 outlook for digital penetration in health systems

There are many areas of opportunities to look out for in 2022. Whether it’s telemedicine, blockchain electronic records, or AI-enabled medical devices, there are clear indications that digital technology is fast making inroads in health systems, reshaping how medical data is stored and shared, how patients interact with their health providers, as well as decision-making, treatment plans, and outcomes. For instance, blockchain technology can offer better electronic health records, just as big data, wearable medical devices, virtual reality, and on-demand healthcare will contribute to the transformation of India’s health sector.

The digital revolution experienced an enhanced drive due to physical restrictions imposed by the pandemic. However, increasing smartphone and Internet penetration, and initiatives like the government-run National Digital Health Mission are collectively responsible for the accelerated pace of health systems digitization in India. There’s also a proposed plan for a National Health stack by the Indian government to bring diverse stakeholders, such as hospitals, government, insurers, and TPAs under one roof. This will certainly enhance networking and seamless exchange of electronic health data.

Entrenching digitisation for improved healthcare delivery

The adoption of telemedicine by doctors in India at the peak of the pandemic across the three major regions of India, according to analysts, was 80 percent in North India, 50 percent in the South and West, and 35 percent in the East. Although the country is easing out of the COVID-19 phase, digitization has shown how seamless and convenient healthcare delivery can be. The recent launch of the Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission (ABDM) further gives impetus to the drive for healthcare digitization in India.

By creating a platform for different healthcare stakeholders, the ABDM strives to boost the 4 (four) key scales for measuring healthcare delivery, namely, quality, transparency, accessibility, and affordability. The complexities of medicine make it untenable for different players to work in silos. Hence, it is expected that these digital platforms will provide the needed push and catalyst for the wholesome digital revolution that India needs in its health sector.

(The author is a Senior Director, Medical Communication & Corporate sales, Thieme. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of FinancialExpress.com.)

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