Healthcare has emerged as one of India’s largest sectors, both from a revenue and employment point of view. Factors such as a burgeoning middle class and the growing burden of new diseases have prompted the need to expand both the quality and accessibility of healthcare.
India’s healthcare sector needs to strike a balance between providing world-class care at high-end urban hospitals while also ensuring that the large rural populations have access to adequate health facilities. In the past two years, the pandemic has highlighted the need to make healthcare a priority. It especially revealed the potential of remote care and digital technologies in transforming healthcare of the future.
As the healthcare sector re-invents itself for a new digital future, here are a few prominent trends that we can expect.
Convergence of healthcare and technology
With digital leaders and start-ups making their entry into the healthcare space, they are bringing their deep domain understanding to innovate and create new business models and partnerships. In the West, the pharma and healthcare industries have already been partnering with technology companies to discover new interventions such as gene editing and digital therapies to deliver better outcomes for patients.
In India too, the convergence of these sectors has the potential to create a far more patient-centric health care model that will prioritise well-being rather than just responding to illness. This will also drive traditional hospitals to explore new models of care, something that is already happening in urban hospitals.
In the recent Union Budget 2022, the honourable finance minister announced a national tele-mental health programme that aims to take mental healthcare services and counselling to underserved regions in the country, particularly rural areas that lag behind in mental healthcare infrastructure. Telemedicine is likely to play a big role in shaping India’s healthcare future since it addresses the issue of access to healthcare facilities in remote areas. At the same time, it also allows healthcare professionals to maximize their productivity, especially given the shortfall in trained medical professionals.
Also, the growing popularity of smartwatches or fitness bands allows individuals to play a greater and continuous role in managing their own health. Given that lifestyle diseases, such as high blood pressure and diabetes are typically caused by lack of exercise or incorrect eating habits, wearables can help boost personal wellness. However, to maximize the potential of wearables in making healthcare personalized, efficient, and cost-effective, we need to enable the power of the network and build a supporting infrastructure that facilitates this.
With advances in telemedicine, the biggest paradigm shift will be the shift from largely hospital-based care to home-based care. This will be facilitated through innovative tools such as non-invasive sensors embedded into living spaces to monitor daily living activities; ultra-wideband radar technology to enable fall detection etc.; hand-held devices that allow physicians to remotely monitor ECG, pulse oximetry and IR skin temperature etc. In such a situation the hospitals can be reserved mainly for surgeries and to act as a command centre to monitor patient health.
The Pandemic highlighted the importance of error-free, real-time data and the need for a healthcare system that is equipped with technical capabilities to offer data without delays. Technology has a key role to play not just in data collection, but also in structuring and analysing the data. Digital tools today can help access and analyse data and make key predictions in an unpredictable and chaotic health environment. Technologies like AI, ML, advanced analytics, and RPA can help derive actionable insights to make real-time decisions without pressurizing the healthcare ecosystem. The ability to scale these tools and build an ecosystem approach to harvesting the power of data as a society will be key.
This will require healthcare and technology partners, patients, and academia to come together through a closely-knit ecosystem to share data and implement the best technology. They must work towards a common goal to deliver better patient care.
Digital technologies can help address most of the basic challenges affecting healthcare in India, whether is a lack of awareness about health, access to healthcare, or the existing shortfall in the number of trained professionals. However, efforts must be made to ensure the privacy of data, a favourable regulatory environment, and policies that prioritise patient care. The Government, healthcare industry, as well as technology players must come together to create a viable ecosystem for technology-driven healthcare.