Spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic, rapid digitization, increasing internet and smartphone penetration, and government initiatives like National Digital Health Mission and Make in India, the healthcare sector is digitizing and innovating at an accelerated speed. As the pace of digital innovation accelerates, the opportunities for healthcare companies and manufacturers will multiply and patient outcomes will improve.
Major stakeholders in India’s digital healthcare
The digitization of India’s healthcare will inevitably optimize the practice of doctors, enhance patient-doctor communication and improve patient outcomes. Besides the two obvious stakeholders, technological changes in the Indian healthcare system can also benefit other members of the ecosystem. The Indian government is planning to set up a National Health Stack where all major stakeholders such as hospitals, insurers, TPAs, government and HealthTech startups can come under one roof. These diverse stakeholders can facilitate the collection of comprehensive healthcare data electronically.
An electronic national health registry would allow policymakers to form robust policies, detect fraud in health insurance, measure outcomes and boost medical research in India. The portability of this data will cut costs, save time, enable monitoring, improve patient outcomes and even prevent the outbreak of viruses and diseases. It will also help pharmaceutical companies, laboratories, and medical devices manufacturers to leverage the information system to address the country’s long-standing healthcare challenges and build innovative drugs, devices, and solutions. Additionally, the government has allocated ₹1600 crore for five years towards the Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission (ABDM) to propel India’s digital healthcare.
A mixed bag of benefits and challenges
Digital healthcare has introduced telemedicine and virtual care models, which have proved to be life-saving at the peak of the mortal pandemic. According to reports, 80 per cent of doctors in North India adopted telemedicine, 50 per cent in Southern and Western regions, and 35 per cent in East India during the pandemic. Consequently, patients in rural and remote areas of the country, who remained aloof to healthcare services, are now able to access affordable and quality healthcare. Thanks to technology, patients can now seek online consultation and get medicines delivered to their homes within a few minutes. Additionally, the emergence of medical wearables has made patients more aware of their health and can help in the prevention of lifestyle diseases. Artificial Intelligence and robotics can also improve accuracy, enable precise diagnosis and remote treatment.
Despite the myriad benefits of digital healthcare, challenges abound in the Indian healthcare system. The absence of clear regulations and guidelines may lead to fraudulent practices, data theft, and misuse of digital prescriptions and electronic health records. The lack of digital infrastructure and skilled professionals is another roadblock to the digitization of the healthcare system. According to reports, the density of skilled active health workforce in India is as low as 11 to 12 doctors and nurses/midwives per 10,000 persons. Digital upskilling and robust infrastructure can prove to be expensive and formidable endeavors. India must overcome data privacy and cybersecurity issues to unlock its full potential in digital healthcare.
Unlocking India’s full potential
The benefits offered by digital healthcare surpass the challenges by leaps and bounds. Government initiatives and incentives, along with changing patient expectations have made India a fertile ground for HealthTech startups. Currently, 7,128 HealthTech startups populate India’s digital healthcare ecosystem. These healthcare startups are aiming at specific problems and building innovative technology solutions that can help leapfrog the gaps in the Indian healthcare system. The pandemic has further fuelled global investments into healthcare startups and firms in India. An integrated network of hospitals, labs, insurers, pharmaceuticals, and HealthTech startups under the regulatory framework of government policies and guidelines can help India chart a successful roadmap for the future.
Moving forward, the Indian healthcare system is projected to witness a massive spike in demand as well as supply of digital healthcare services. An ecosystem of AI, robotics, telemedicine, electronic health records, IoT, and digital therapeutics among others will strengthen the country’s healthcare backbone to overcome challenges in patient monitoring, healthcare accessibility, affordability, supply chain, claims settlement, and quality of care. From being a laggard in technology adoption to being a leading innovator, the healthcare sector has come a long way and is forecasted to propel even further. The horizon of India’s digital healthcare is brimming with high hopes and possibilities.
Gaurav Gupta, Co-Founder of Navia Life Care- a health tech startup
(DISCLAIMER: The views expressed are solely of the author and ETHealthworld does not necessarily subscribe to it. ETHealthworld.com shall not be responsible for any damage caused to any person / organisation directly or indirectly)