By Advait Suhas Pandit
Digital disruptions have changed the course of the healthcare industry in India and over the years, improved the operational challenges in the system. However, with a large population to address, the healthcare infrastructure is plagued by shortage of healthcare professionals and this is particularly acute in rural India.
According to the McKinsey Digital India Report 2019, there are about 2.2 medical professionals (like doctors, nurses, midwives etc.) for every 1000 persons. Out of which 60% of healthcare facilities are centered in the cities. Another report cited that in India, there is 1 government doctor for every 10,189 people. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends a ratio of 1:1000. There is a deficit of 600,000 doctors, and the nurse:patient ratio is at 1:483, implying a shortage of 2 million nurses in the country.
With improved internet penetration in the country and widespread use of smartphones, technology has driven the industry to deliver cost-effective healthcare especially in rural India, with the help of technology. Just as top social media and tech companies looking to tap into the regional market have adapted to local languages in India, similarly healthcare is also moving towards localization.
Pros and cons of technology in healthcare
Today, chatbots, voice-enabled chatbots and online doctor consultation has enabled patients to interact and engage with medical professionals directly. Access to healthcare centres in semi-urban and rural areas are still limited and health-tech industry has empowered patients to reach out to doctors and specialists especially in cases where it requires constant monitoring and intervention.
All this in the patient’s respective regional language has aided millions to directly interact with qualified medical professionals. According to a recent report by KPMG, of the next 326 million internet users in India, 93% are expected to be local language-first users. The vernacular medium has made health-tech far more accessible over the last decade and has reduced dependency on unqualified & unregistered medical professionals., especially in rural India.
Benefits of technology in healthcare
Some of the benefits of technology in healthcare include:
- Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML) and NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) enabled chatbots can be a channel to help address queries from patients either completely or at least up to a point
- Technology encourages evidence-based diagnosis by providing accurate data and health information.
- Furthermore, multilingual chat bots will address the language diversity in the country.
- Technologies such as voice enabled chat bots will further make the service available to people who find it difficult to read/type or cannot read/ type.
- Note that AI, ML & NLP has made bots more human-like by recognizing emotions in a person’s voice. As the bots assimilate information over a period of time, they become smarter and more adept in handling complex patient information.
Traditionally, handled by medical practitioners in a hospital or clinic, today with the help of advanced tech, is being simply monitored and processed by bots. Technology has played an integral role in making healthcare affordable and accessible in the country and with advancements in the health tech, it is sure to change the landscape of the Indian healthcare industry.
(The author is Chief Technology Officer at Netmeds. Views expressed are the author’s own.)