Impact of digital revolution

Technology is enabling better distribution of information in local languages across a wide range of audiences

Digital healthcare platform, Internet of Things (IoT), Telemedicon, AI, Cloud computing

The advent of digitalisation in the previous decade has taken the healthcare industry by storm.  Increasing convergence of physical and virtual environments has opened new avenues for both public and private healthcare sectors for increasing the flexibility of their care delivery policies at both the primary, secondary and tertiary levels.

But what does digital healthcare entail?
Digital healthcare is defined as an improvement in the way healthcare provision is conceived and delivered by healthcare providers through the use of information and communication technologies to monitor and improve the wellbeing and health of  patients and to empower patients in the management of their health and that of their families.
Quality healthcare is determined by three factors: sufficient number of trained physicians, quick diagnostics, and easy availability of medicines.  However, timely and cost-effective service of patient needs is ultimately the deciding factor for whether a healthcare system is performing well. Digital innovations are playing a role in all of these and ensuring a smooth transition of care to avail ever-changing patient needs.

Where does India stand?
India, with a population of around 1.3 billion is one of the biggest markets for digital innovations. According to Telemedicon 2016, the CAGR for smartphone and internet users in India is rising at the rate of 20 to 30% with a 58% increment in rural internet users every year. This has led to an increasing need for an omnichannel experience from companies. In the healthcare sector, this demand is fed directly through telemedicine, social media channels, big data and mobile apps.

From OPD, diagnostics and medicines to emergency home care, everything is now available at a single click or swipe. The increasing success of healthcare companies and increasing investment in this sector has made it possible to provide quality healthcare facilities even in the most distant areas. As a result, there has been a sharp increase in health outcomes in India across all demographics.

Innovations in technology have bridged the language gap to make it convenient for the end consumer to avail healthcare information in their own language. Since a major part of the Indian population does not speak English, technology is enabling better distribution of information in local languages across a wide range of audiences, and is helping convert the hierarchical doctor-patient relationship into an equal partnership to an extent.

Furthermore, miniaturisation of diagnostic devices has significantly improved the accessibility of primary healthcare and has considerably brought down the cost of management of chronic diseases for patients. They also empower the patient to play an active role in their own treatment.

In a hospital setting, IoMT or healthcare IoT devices are valuable in continuous monitoring and quick assessment, which helps save precious time and quickly decide the course of treatment in case of acute conditions. They also aid in providing better ICU care and remote monitoring of home care patients. Wearable equipments that are designed to provide real-time information about a person’s vitals aids in keeping a track of the health condition of ambulatory patients. They are also beneficial in maintaining fitness and weight issues and are being widely used by health enthusiasts.

On the other hand, increasing use of AI and increased automation in diagnostic procedures has improved appointment scheduling, screening and operational excellence. With online booking of appointments and tests, door to door diagnostic sample collection to timely delivery of results at the doorstep, the entire process has been linearised, simplifying the whole healthcare for patients. This is both time and cost-effective.

Cloud storage of medical history and prescriptions at various healthcare platforms has made it easier for patients to access this information from anywhere and make it available to their healthcare provider as per need. These data are saved in secure accounts, so there is minimal risk of information leak or tampering, ensuring the privacy and safety of the patient.

The road ahead
Despite all these advances, digital healthcare in India still has to catch up to some other countries such as Denmark, which has one of the most advanced digital health infrastructure in the world. Many Indian healthcare providers are still sceptical about adopting EHR systems, AI and IoMT systems and it is completely absent from the public sector, which is still using outdated systems for screening, diagnosing and recording patient information. Also, there is a need to improve healthcare promotion strategies and develop a more personalised system of medicine in parallel with public health surveillance. Once again, digital health technologies being developed can play an extremely important role here.

With most of the healthcare devices being run on outdated legacy systems, there is a high risk of information leakage to third-party platforms. And then there is the ever present question of affordability of good healthcare services. There is a need to further bring down the costs to make it fit into the pockets of a common man, and to increase the penetration of affordable healthcare into tier II, III cities, small towns and perhaps most importantly, in rural areas. Digital health can be of help here.

Rajat Garg is co-founder & CEO of myUpchar.