Covid-19 has provided the tailwind for this
By Rohit Sathe
As the global pandemic raged across the world, we saw in 2020 the resilience and courage of people, patients, and healthcare professionals who were in the frontlines of the fight against COVID 19. The Indian government had recognised the potential of digital technologies in improving the healthcare landscape in the country early on. The launch of the National Digital Health Mission (NDHM) and National Digital Health Blueprint (NDHB) underscore the value that the government attaches to the digitisation of healthcare. Digital transformation had been on the agenda of healthcare providers for years—yet, despite huge progress across the industry, full rethinking of healthcare for the digital age often remained an elusive long-term goal.
It is here that Covid-19 provided a tailwind to the need for reinforcing the role of digital technologies in improving India’s healthcare.
One of the most significant trends that we have observed is that care is moving towards patients in tier-2 and tier-3 cities. Earlier patients from these cities would come to tier-I cities for treatment; with COVID-19 that was not possible. What is happening now is that tier-2 and tier-3 cities are building capacity to treat patients with diagnosis being done by experts in tier-1 cities. Much of this is happening through the internet and often manifests itself in the form of e-consultations, tele medicine and other such forms of intervention. And this really is the concept of connected care where eICUs, NICUs (neonatal ICUs) and Remote Operating Centres (ROCs) can be monitored by experts who aren’t really in the same geographic location. India currently has more than 11.5 lakh doctors, more than 25,000 government hospitals and more than 7 lakh beds in these hospitals. These sizeable assets, which are being improved upon, can be extended and more optimally utilised by using digital approaches to healthcare. Today, you could easily have an entire chain of NICUs in a tier-2 city having its young patients being monitored by top-notch intensivists from a metro. A solution driven approach, where products and services are bundled together, delivered through new mediums can drastically alter the healthcare landscape for the better in the coming days!
A second trend that we are observing, because of digitisation, is the online training and education of medical professionals. Earlier, most training was in person. Now, due to the greater use of the online medium, for which Covid-19 has been to a great extent responsible, online training is gaining acceptance; e-Learning and the use of simulators are a lot more prevalent and acceptable nowadays. New technologies in simulation like haptic feedback make for more realistic online training. With haptic feedback, trainees can get an experience of touch to realistically simulate the jerks and vibrations which would otherwise be experienced by a surgeon during surgery.
A related trend is that with the need for greater accreditation, hospitals and doctors are investing in knowledge to be on par with global standards. What we saw in the last year was an abundance of webinars and online discussions—all great forums for practicing doctors to participate in and get updated on the latest techniques in medicine and surgery. This undoubtedly results in better diagnosis and care.
Coming back to the NDHM (which saw more than 1 lakh health IDs being created within a month of its launch), it provides a stellar benefit in ensuring the safe and secure availability of patient medical records across the country. This greatly empowers the doctor as he can now review the entire continuum of past diagnosis and treatment to diagnose better and decide on a course of future care.
Lastly, NDHM also encourages hospitals to standardise themselves. If we are looking at technology and digitisation as a pathway for care in the coming days, standardisation is a must. It is, by itself, one of the single most important preparatory steps for the next phase of healthcare in India.
What is clear from the trends discussed above is that we are moving towards the digital transformation of healthcare. We are looking at a future where connected care becomes the norm and patients are no longer constrained by geography when it comes to accessing care. We are looking at a future where our doctors and hospitals are well equipped to deliver accurate diagnosis and treatment to patients using the latest in online and collaboration technologies. Most of the policies to enable this change are in place. What’s needed now is the will and determination to embrace this change and deliver better care to Indians in the coming days.
The author is Vice-president (health systems), Philips Indian Subcontinent