Over the last decade, many new innovative technologies including telemedicine, genomics, wearable tech, AI and robotics, nuclear and molecular medicine, and deep tech for investigating diseases have been creating a disruptive change in the healthcare landscape. The digital health revolution has been global, sweeping in its wake India, both as a significant contributor and beneficiary to health-tech enabled research. This includes affordable drug discoveries, disease surveillance and data-enabled predictive analytics amongst other innovations. A major catalyst instrumental in this change has been the new breed of start-ups, who are building innovative digital tools aimed at advancing diagnostics, enabling telehealth, improving medical record keeping and developing entire value chains of healthcare, thereby helping shape the industry for times to come.
Pathbreaking advances in health-tech digital services reinforced by state-led reforms are seen as engines for innovation to attain universal healthcare for all. However, the subcontinent faced with significant gender, social, and geo-locational gaps as well as under-resourced and under-equipped public sector hospitals, is unable to offer these emerging healthcare solutions to all. Yet it is these very solutions that hold the key to universal access to healthcare. This article looks at crucial steps towards creating a digital healthcare landscape and offers solutions to the challenges that its large-scale deployment in India faces.
The public-private healthcare landscape varies greatly in many ways. Even though healthcare records are maintained physically the access to them has traditionally been cumbersome in both government, as well as privately run healthcare establishments. Due to this inaccessibility, patients end up spending on repeat and unnecessary diagnostic tests and consultations, causing delays in treatment, higher costs, overcrowding in hospitals and wrong diagnosis due to general disregard of the unrecorded medical history.
The scenario is slowly changing with favourable policy frameworks like the Ayushman Bharat Health Account (ABHA), which mandates the maintenance of health records and allows access of these online. Increased internet penetration has the potential to provide easier access to digital records and reduce repeated diagnostic testing hence assisting in treatments being fast-tracked. The National Digital Health Mission (NDHM) is leveraging the existing digital records system created by Aadhaar and UIDAI and plans to enable electronic transfer of health records pan India.
Digitalisation also enables remote patient monitoring and treatment, improving healthcare access for the elderly and remotely located, ease of diagnoses and reducing unnecessary hospital visits. This fosters preventive healthcare. With growing health awareness, wearable medical devices are also gaining traction. Wearables for ECG, BP, blood glucose monitoring allow people to better manage chronic diseases and improve their quality of life.
The pandemic, while devastating in many ways, saw the swift adoption of telemedicine and virtual consultations. This development can be further bolstered with focused policy deliberation to standardize procedures. This will improve access to specialized health consultation services and enable quicker, easier knowledge transfer and record keeping — all reducing the burden on physical OPDs and improving healthcare outcomes.
While many of these developments are restricted to private healthcare facilities, the government has introduced teleconsultations in health camps and is also launching app-based, e-governance initiatives to create awareness in disease management and prevention. This aims to carve out a dedicated e-Health India division for implementing these programs in the field.
Public and private sector healthcare players need to come together to establish support systems to assess risks and benefits, eliminate potential error and improve decision making. Well-defined guidelines and supportive regulatory framework will lead the way for an improved healthcare ecosystem along with incubating indigenous health-tech start-ups to attract further investments. Finally, alongside money, technology and policy, a holistic digital health ecosystem also needs upskilling people and improving digital connectivity to lead towards a healthier India.