By Runam Mehta
Living in India, historically there has been a lack of emphasis on health at every level We do not go to the doctor unless it is a real emergency! And when it comes to women, health is the last thing on their radar. It is appalling to see that people living in villages and even in big cities do not check their blood pressure or sugar levels on a periodic basis so much so that when complications arise, they ascribe it to fate rather than see it as the result of years of neglect.
Anecdotes apart, a look at the health data from the government as well as independent research bodies presents a scary picture. India is facing a double disease burden — people in the country still suffer from communicable diseases, and non-communicable ailments are also on the rise exponentially! According to the recent Global Burden of Disease study, non-communicable diseases now account for 7 out of the top 10 causes of death and disability in India.
While people are still to come to terms with the importance of testing and early detection, the lack of a good public health system in India only adds to the problem. There are not enough doctors available in rural areas and preventive health is still to get the attention it deserves.
However, all is not lost as advances in technology and the emergence of telemedicine have now made it possible to take health to the people. Simple point-of-care diagnostic devices that work on Bluetooth technology are making it possible to expand testing without the need for specialist doctors in the community! With these devices, frontline health workers can screen people for basic health conditions like hypertension and diabetes and refer the high-risk cases to the doctor. Teleconsultations are now possible and more effective than ever before.
The Government of India under the National Program for Prevention and Treatment of Non-communicable diseases have made tabs available to frontline health workers in an attempt to digitize the health systems. Many state governments have devised programs that make screening mandatory!
Smart diagnostics can help go beyond screening for some individual disease conditions and teleconsultations. It can ensure that a person is being screened for several disease conditions all at once thus creating a health profile for the individual. Progress can be tracked by improving adherence to the treatment plan. Some point-of-care devices calculate the risk score for an individual based on an assessment of the risk factors thus creating an urgency for them to seek healthcare.
The evolution of point-of-care diagnostics has now made it possible to reimagine public health systems and create a robust infrastructure with existing mechanisms even as we scale up the availability of medical professionals in the county. Presence of frontline health workers in every village and their ability to handle point-of-care devices will create a robust mechanism for screening, referral and treatment. While primary health centers are able to handle the initial patient load, the more serious cases can be referred to tertiary care hospitals.
There are other advantages of using technology-enabled health care that we cannot overlook. Details of every patient entered into a point-of-care device become data and therefore, a valuable resource for researchers and medical professionals to analyze disease trends and take preventive action. Adequate checks are needed to prevent the misuse of sensitive information, of course.
In conclusion, it is true that brick-and-mortar public health infrastructure cannot be replaced. However, when it comes to patient care, point-of-care diagnostics can contribute significantly in taking healthcare into the patient’s home.
(The author is CEO – HealthCube. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of FinancialExpress.com.)