Just a few years back, India’s healthcare sector was under-penetrated in terms of technology adoption and was lagging behind other industry verticals. However, the scenario is changing gradually. The fact is corroborated by the research firm Gartner, which says that healthcare providers in India are expected to spend $1.2 bn on IT products and services in 2015, an increase of 7% over 2014.
The key reason of increased IT investment is that the sector is viewing technology as an antidote to address a number of its issues. To assess major healthcare challenges facing the country, let’s look at some report findings:
There is only one doctor per 1,700 citizens in India; the World Health Organization stipulates a minimum ratio of 1:1,000. Further, the Union Health Ministry figures claim that there are about 6-6.5 lakh doctors available currently in the country and India would need about 4 lakh more by 2020.
Apart from low doctor-to-patient ratio, there are several other issues being faced by the healthcare and pharmaceutical sector that limit quality healthcare from reaching the citizens, especially in the rural communities. Inaccessibility of healthcare information to citizens and patients is one of the major challenges—patients typically have no visibility into availability of beds, blood, drugs, and equipment.
Absence of an effective and transparent grievance redressal system further creates gaps in the Indian healthcare scenario. Further, lack of proper facility management and basic infrastructure leads to delay in delivery of drugs and/or vaccines, downtime of equipment, etc.
Another issue of traditional healthcare is posed by paper-based record keeping system—delay in access to records leads to delay in diagnosis, impacting the quality of healthcare services provided to patients. Moreover, absence of an effective referral mechanisms result in extended waiting intervals and ill-managed queues at every stage (registration, OPD, IPD, lab, radiology, OT, billing, discharge) at most hospitals.
HOW TECHNOLOGY IS REVOLUTIONIZING HEALTHCARE
By streamlining processes and addressing traditional challenges, technology is bringing a sea change across sectors. And healthcare is no different. From using tablets and iPads to access patients’ records to using telemedicine to expand reach to rural communities, technology is making inroads into every aspect of healthcare and addressing major challenges.
“Technology has extensively and intensely impacted healthcare today and is already shaping how it will look in the future,” asserts Shibasish Pramanik, Associate Director- Healthcare, PwC India. “Creating awareness and developing incentives for the use of technology is key to ensuring the investment in technology yields higher returns,” he adds.
Some of the key technologies defining the healthcare of the future include:
#1 Mobility: Smartphone adoption in India is witnessing exponential growth due to various factors like price reductions because of growing competition; the ease of access of content and language localization; government incentives through ‘Make in India’, and prevalence of Internet-enabled services on smartphones, according to Zinnov.
This boom has opened gates for virtual world where doctors and patients can collaborate in real time. For
instance, an online portal like iCliniq is helping individuals to take advice online or consult doctors round the-clock over the phone and HD video if they have an urgent health concern that requires immediate consultation. Similarly, the invention of telemedicine has opened new avenues for rural healthcare. Telehealth allows patients to connect with doctors using mobile devices and video chat. For example, Apollo Telemedicine Networking Foundation provides telemedicine through transfer of medical information, medical transcription in all forms of audios, videos, motion pictures, still images, graphics,
CDs, emails, Internet, text and other forms of electronic methods between the patients, physicians, other healthcare providers through the use of computer, satellite and networking technology for diagnosis, treatment, consultation, and continuing education.
#2 Digital: Healthcare is witnessing a push to make the move from paper-based to electronic health record systems. By going digital, healthcare is able to move beyond the brick and mortar constraints of traditional medicine by using a new digital infrastructure to ensure more efficient service delivery. Digitization enables centralized database containing all aspects of patients’ health, which in turn reduces the risk of medical errors. A major initiative that demonstrates the power of digitization in healthcare is eHealth, which is a part of Digital India program of the government.
With concepts like ePharmacy, eDiagnostics, eInsurance, eReferrals, this program would provide a robust ecosystem
support to the patients and service providers alike with access to information— anytime, anywhere. The database of health records is further expected to be linked to the Aadhar number of citizens.
With this initiative, getting an OPD appointment, lab reports and blood availability in any government hospital becomes easy. Patients can skip the hassles of registration and other formalities by merely identifying themselves through the Aadhaar number. Further, they can select hospital and department, select date of appointment and get the same through SMS.
#3 Cloud: There is hardly any sector left which is not under the cloud umbrella; healthcare too is soaring high on the cloud wave. Almost 90% doctors are now storing all their patient records in digital format and then moving them to the cloud. With this patients and doctors can access their information anytime, anywhere. This ensures complete picture of a patient’s medical history to doctors.
#4 Analytics: Using predictive algorithms, doctors can diagnose their patients more accurately. A perfect example is of start-up Inspirata, which is looking at big data analytics based solutions for more rapid and accurate detection, diagnosis, and treatment of cancer. The company is looking at building a big data repository of cancer data—Cancer Information Data Trust. With this tele-medicine will become possible, enabling patients to get the most rapid and accurate diagnosis from anywhere in the world. This will also allow physicians to continue to mine a new source of data, together with existing sources, to get a complete view of the disease. By analyzing multiple data points related to cancer, cancer specialists can perhaps arrive at a solution to defeat cancer—a task that has been beyond the reach of mankind till today.
Though the healthcare sector has traditionally seen lower levels of IT investment and adoption, the trend is fast changing. Currently, the industry is in the phase shedding away its initial reluctance towards technology and exploring the impact of various technologies. “While many programs have either been rolled out, or envisaged in parts of India, the implementation, almost always, has been partial or incomplete, but is expected to improve over the coming years,” elaborates Sanjeev Kumar Gupta, Managing Director – Health & Public Services, Accenture in India.
With exciting technology developments taking place in this space, the potential for technology-enabled transformation in healthcare in the coming years is huge.