Enormous Potential for Digital Technologies
Digital technologies have enormous potential in
India for solving various complexities in healthcare.
1. Augmenting capacity of providers
● Automated diagnosis based on advanced image recognition algorithms in areas like blood, urine, cheek swab tests and lab images
● Technologies that allow remote consultation to overcome barriers of distance
2. Improving capability of healthcare providers
● Use of tools to provide better training to doctors, nurses, paramedics on techniques and medical advancements
● Use of robotic surgeries and 3D printed prostheses
3. Enhancing care outcomes
● Use of smart devices to pre-empt incidents with patients suffering from chronic conditions like diabetes, heart problems, etc.
● Use of apps, games and other digital tools to motivate such patients to lead a healthy lifestyle, take medication regularly and on-time, thereby maintaining quality of life
4. Reducing cost of care
● Use of smart devices inside hospitals for better asset utilization and maintenance, to automate functions like monitoring spot surgery conditions in ICU
● Better costing mechanisms in hospitals that allow for optimizing processes and cutting waste
5. Better population health management
● Digitalization of patient records allowing better pricing of insurance
● Using information and algorithms to predict disease outbreaks in sensitive regions
● Better traceability of medicines from source to pharmacy
While many of the above technologies are actively in use, what is missing is harmonized systemwide data interconnection to create more intelligence. It is estimated that ~50 per cent patients in urban India select a doctor based on online search and close to 40 per cent read up on disease and prescriptions on the web. Similarly, ~60 per cent of Tier 1 city doctors believe digital use will increase and benefit their practice. However, the gap widens significantly in rural/peri-urban areas. If we want to increase digital adoption in India, the following need to be addressed:
1. Digital compliance of individuals
● Very few doctors outside large hospital chains use a computer or tablet to record prescriptions
● Similarly patients at risk or suffering from chronic conditions might not be rigorously using apps or smart devices to record readings and share it with their doctors
2. User interface design of technologies
● Lack of vernacular interface, for example, could make it difficult for patients to adopt digital apps.
3. Co-opting doctors to ensure adoption
● Doctors are yet to start prescribing apps perhaps because clinical evidence to prove apps have positive health outcomes for patients is yet unavailable.
4. End to end health coverage ● Consolidation of spends in the wallets of an employer or insurer ensures compliance at the hospital level or individual doctor/ patient level as capturing data is a key requirement in ensuring transparency.
5. Better collaboration between entities
● For example, pharmaceutical companies can pool data to determine combined drug sales in an area or pharmacies can collaborate with manufacturers and distributors to trace drug shipments across the supply chain. Also, many hospitals and clinics in an area might need to share data to see disease trends.
So what is the prognosis for digital healthcare? Two ecosystem level developments – one local and one in the US - promise to usher in change that will propel adoption of digital in healthcare:
● The ambitious Ayushman Bharath universal health coverage scheme recently floated to provide cover to 100 million families will necessitate creating the technology backbone for digitization of patient records
● In the US, there is a growing concept called digital therapeutics where apps could be treated as drugs by regulators and app makers expected to conduct clinical trial-like studies to prove their claims so that doctors can start prescribing them.
In summary, digital health can play a transformative role in healthcare delivery in India if we can address the challenges mentioned above.
Principal, Digital Solutions, IQVIA
S V RAJAGOPAL,Principal, Digital Solutions, IQVIA