The pandemic has accelerated the adoption of digital healthcare services: Nikhil Chari, Dhani Healthcare

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August 25, 2021 2:50 PM

'Consumer data privacy is paramount, and there are HIPAA Compliance guidelines that we follow on all matters of consumer data protection and privacy.'

telemedicine, covid pandemic, teleconsultations, digital healthcare, dhani healthcare, netmeds, Reliance, 1MG Tata'It is also encouraging that the Government has taken positive steps in formulating the telemedicine guidelines and developing training and certification programs for healthcare professionals.'

Telemedicine has grown considerably since the advent of pandemic in India and is playing a major role in making healthcare accessible and affordable. It is playing a pivotal role in anticipating epidemics which is possible by studying the electronic medical records of the population and making a combined assessment of the health of the society. Information technology and telemedicine can be used to inform, influence and motivate individuals and population organizations on health, health-related issues and adoption of healthy lifestyles. It can be a very important tool for the evaluation and monitoring of healthcare services. These unprecedented times of a pandemic pose unique challenges in providing healthcare. Though telemedicine will not solve them all, but it is a boon in a scenario like this, where healthcare professionals and the patients are at a huge risk of being exposed to the deadly virus. In an exclusive conversation with the Financial Express Online Nikhil Chari, President Healthcare, Dhani talked about teleconsultations in India, role of technology and more. Excerpts:

Do you think India is ready for teleconsultations? What kind of consultation numbers do you see on your platform?

We have seen a very healthy adoption of telemedicine over the course of the last year. For us, it has proven to serve a valuable need to patients, especially in smaller cities and towns where access to quality doctors and timely care may be difficult, and we hear this from our patients consistently on a daily basis. At present, we do approximately 3 thousand consultations daily and are growing.

It is also encouraging that the Government has taken positive steps in formulating the telemedicine guidelines and developing training and certification programs for healthcare professionals. This will further help to mature the quality of care delivered through telemedicine and will lead to further patient adoption.

How has the pandemic affected your business?

The pandemic has probably accelerated the adoption of digital healthcare services by 4-5 years. For us, it has resulted in the rapid adoption of our services.

What promising advancements do you see in point-of-care treatments?

We see a lot of exciting developments in point-of-care treatments. In addition to the remote delivery of care discussed above, a lot of innovation is happening on the in-home patient diagnostic devices front and remote monitoring of patient vitals by doctors using cloud technology. From rapid self-testing diagnostic kits to palm-sized devices that can monitor all patient vitals and seamlessly connect with a doctor remotely via the cloud is something that will reshape a doctor’s capability to care for patients remotely and further evolve the adoption of digital healthcare.

telemedicine, covid pandemic, teleconsultations, digital healthcare, dhani healthcare, netmeds, Reliance, 1MG TataNikhil Chari, President Healthcare, Dhani

Do you think India will start changing laws to accommodate telehealth instead of physical visits?

The Government has already taken an accommodative and proactive stance to enable telemedicine by framing the guidelines and developing training and certification programs for healthcare professionals. However, it doesn’t replace physical visits as, at times, a patient may require a physical examination. Telemedicine can serve as a powerful first-point-of-contact triage care medium. It can also be used for follow up care monitoring, so it complements physical visits and inpatient care.

What does the future of healthcare look like for populations which are not yet tech-savvy?

The digital ecosystem is evolving very rapidly in India that will promote digital healthcare and all digital services. Another significant development just this week is that Jio and Google could bring a sub $50 smartphone to the Indian market, which has the potential to convert an additional 450 million Indians to smartphone users. This will further boost the adoption of digital services, including healthcare.

What kind of a business is Dhani Healthcare into? Also, can you throw some light on your key business numbers?

Dhani Healthcare is a Primary Health Care and Pharmacy services provider with the objective of democratizing high quality, affordable healthcare to the masses.

Within our Primary Health Care business called Dhani Doctor, we provide holistic OPD solutions to our patients, including instant video consultations with our in-house Specialists and GP doctors, in-home diagnostics tests and door-step delivery of prescribed medicines to patients within 1 hour of the consultation. In addition, we provide digital clinic management solutions to independent doctors. All of this is carried out through our super-app, Dhani.

Our Pharmacy services provide home delivery of medicines and healthcare products through our Dhani app and website. We also service walk-in customers through our physical Dhani Health Shops. Since we launched our service late last year, we have done one million-plus consultations and delivered approximately 5 thousand medicine packages a day.

What kind of growth have you seen in the adoption of Digital Healthcare in India?

We have seen rapid adoption of digital healthcare in India over the last 12 months. Credit goes to the Government of India for proactively formulating the framework for digital administration of healthcare through its Telemedicine Guidelines, which has enabled remote delivery of care. Credit also goes to telecom providers like Jio for making digital access ubiquitous to the masses. As a result, we sense that over the last 12 months, digital healthcare has grown 4-5x from pre-pandemic levels.

Netmeds was bought by Reliance, 1MG by Tata’s…where do you see the business potential & how do you think Dhani Healthcare will differentiate its offerings?

Healthcare has a huge potential in India. While the Government has done an excellent job in building out a deep primary care network, the private sector can play a significant role in further developing healthcare services. For instance, we spend approximately USD 100 billion on healthcare for 1.4 billion citizens. In comparison, the US spends almost USD 4 trillion on healthcare for 330 million citizens or almost 200x on a per capita basis – so the potential opportunity is tremendous. If we look at the three aspects of healthcare service delivery – namely, access of care, cost of care, and quality of care – we believe digital healthcare has the scope of disrupting all these three aspects of care. We have witnessed this through our platform over the last 12 months, so it’s not theoretical.

When it comes to how Dhani is differentiated, there are a few fundamental differences from other service providers. Firstly, we are not a marketplace for service providers and customers, but we provide medical services in-house. This means that we take responsibility for the quality of care provided to our patients. Our in-house clinical excellence team ensures all our experienced doctors are abreast of the latest clinical protocols and treatment guidelines. Secondly, we take a holistic approach to providing a continuum of care to our patients through primary care consultations, diagnostic services and pharmacy services instead of focusing predominantly on one aspect of care. This results in better patient treatment and outcomes. Finally, we complement our digital delivery of healthcare with an extensive physical Dhani Health Shops network that provides greater access and convenience to our customers.

How do you balance the future of healthcare and consumer privacy? What considerations /risks /opportunities should we keep top of mind?

This is not an either/or question or something that needs to be balanced. Data protection and privacy have to go hand in hand with the development of digital healthcare. Consumer data privacy is paramount, and there are HIPAA Compliance guidelines that we follow on all matters of consumer data protection and privacy. India’s own version of HIPAA is under development under the Digital Information Security in Healthcare Act (DISHA), which seeks to provide electronic health data privacy, confidentiality, security and standardization. These are all steps in the right direction to further develop digital health services.

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