How is technology changing healthcare?
In my earlier column (September 4), I discussed how technology is changing healthcare, and focused on the impact it is having on doctors and patients.
The effects of technology are however stretching far beyond to other aspects of health care as well.
CLINICS AND HOSPITALS
One cannot think of any modern health care facility today without computers, and their role is expected to grow exponentially. Most good hospitals have already started keeping patient’ s clinical data, visit and progress records, investigations, bills and payment details in computers. It makes data retrieval easy. The patient need not carry heavy files and x-ray plates in briefcases or suitcases any more. Also, it is much more easy to pull out all the reports and clinical details by the doctor during consultation, some of which the patient may have forgotten to bring.
This makes crossreference easy. A cardiologist sitting in his clinic in another country can see the video-picture of a patient’s coronary angiogram, and advise him by tele-consultation.
This new aspect of healthcare delivery has stimulated several computer companies to develop new software for clinics and hospitals, and they are getting better and cheaper with time.
PAYMENT FOR HEALTHCARE
The scene in India is in huge contrast with that of developed nations, in that only 20% or less of our citizen are covered by any form of health insurance. In other words, around 80% of our patients make out-ofpocket payments for getting medical care.
This is indeed worrisome as medicines, medical procedures and hospitalizations are getting very expensive by the day.
This upward swing in costs has predictably generated two types of response. One is to try and bring the costs down both, by policy (say costs of antibiotics sold by pharmaceutical companies, devices like cardiac stents sold by device manufacturers, hospital charges for procedures etc. This is certainly imperative, as even the USA with all its wealth adopted Obamacare that Mr Trump has not been able to shake off.
The other approach to deal with increasing costs is to have someone pay for it, ie medical insurance. If one wants to go for a robotic surgery with its many advantages and safety features, it is bound to cost more– the machine is expensive, the setup is
costly, and doctors who train at it expect better remuneration and so on. Hence health insurance is becoming imperative.
Medicines that are sold in pharmacy shops are indeed expensive as they are sold by the MRP printed on them. If you were to buy the same medicines from a wholeseller, it would come cheaper as it would be shorn of the retail margin. E-pharmacies are doing just that. They are buying medicines form the pharmaceutical houses at “outlet prices” and selling them on-line with small profit margins. This is making a lot of difference especially for those who require long-term therapy, and can help them save much on a monthly or yearly basis. Technology is inescapable. It depends on us how we make the best of it.