Digital Health: The Way Forward

The Indian healthcare sector is growing at a rapid pace and is currently valued at US$100 billion. However, high patient volumes, inadequate availability of doctors and healthcare facilities, especially in the rural areas, are some of the problems that plague the Indian healthcare system. India is short of nearly 5, 00,000 doctors based on the World Health Organization’s norm of 1:1,000 population. Technology can bridge this gap between the service providers and the patients in a big way.

With increased digital adoption, the healthcare sector is expected to grow at a CAGR of 23% to US$280 billion by 2020. Given the pace of rapid digitization, this is an opportune time for Indian healthcare companies to embrace innovation and drive businesses with the help of rapidly evolving technologies.

With Electronic Health Records, Mobile Healthcare, Hospital Information System, technology enabled care, telemedicine and other technologies gaining wide acceptance in the sector, clearly Digital Healthcare is the way forward. Digital health could ensure seamless healthcare management along with efficient delivery of services, helping both the healthcare providers and the end consumers in the process.

This article highlights some of the digital technologies that are expected to give a strong push to the remote healthcare sector and ensure effective service delivery to consumers. With the CII Healthcare Conclave being held in Mumbai on August 23rd, 2017, it is an opportune moment to learn more about digital healthcare options.

Electronic Health Records: “An Electronic Health Record is a collection of various medical records that get generated during any clinical encounter or events”. There are several advantages of maintaining an Electronic Health Record (EHR) such as better and evidence based care, accurate and faster diagnosis that translates into better treatment at lower costs, avoiding unnecessary repetition of investigations, robust analytics including predictive analytics to support personalized care, and improved health policy decisions based on better understanding of underlying issues, among many others. All these in turn can translate into improved personal and public health.

For digitization of healthcare data in the country, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has notified Electronic Health Record Standards for India in December 2016. With the objective of maintaining lifelong and meaningful medical records and to set uniform norms, the Ministry has notified a set of pre-defined standards for information capture, storage, retrieval, exchange and analytics that includes images, clinical codes and data.

Initial investments for maintaining such a vast and completely electronically maintained system are bound to be high; however, studies have shown that upon 90% adoption, the healthcare industry could save US$77 billion per year across inpatient and outpatient settings.

Telemedicine: Telemedicine is the use of technology for remote diagnosis, monitoring and education. Telemedicine is a fast emerging sector in India. Leading hospitals such as Apollo, AIIMS, and Narayana Hrudalaya have adopted telemedicine services and entered into a number of public private partnerships (PPP’s). As of FY 2016, the Indian telemedicine market was valued at US$ 15 million and is expected to grow at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 20% to reach US$ 32 million by 2020.

Apart from its other applications in education, training and management in the health sector, telemedicine has immense potential in meeting the challenges of healthcare delivery to rural and remote areas. With the help of high speed internet and telecommunication, telemedicine can bridge the rural-urban divide in terms of medical facilities, providing low cost consultation services and diagnosis facilities to the remotest of areas.

Telemedicine is significantly impacting the urban space as well. Telemedicine platforms and digital clinics are extending diagnosis and treatment inside homes with the help of video games for cognitive and motor skill evaluations. The interface also maintains Electronic Medical Records which can be shared and managed between platforms and medical specialities for a comprehensive health evaluation without the need for the consumer leaving home.

Big Data: Big data in health is the patient data that is collected and gathered from insurers, healthcare providers, medical practitioners, research centres and other organizations with the help of either health apps or digitized clinics. Big data is becoming popular in the Indian healthcare landscape. Different healthcare players are using Big Data to inform and optimize their product offerings and are accordingly investing in the necessary tools. Big data helps in analysing current trends and offers meaningful insights on diseases, age groups, and areas that require attention and improvements etc.

A lot of data has been generated over the last few decades through a number of platforms including insured applications, claims information, electronic medical records, treatment costs and outcomes and clinical trial results. Moreover, other initiatives by the Government, such as Aadhar based online registration system which helps patients book appointments in a simple and easy manner with major government hospitals, have the potential of becoming a major source for Big Data.

Innovations and disruptions in Healthcare: With the proliferation of Big Data in Indian healthcare, there is plenty of scope for digital innovations in the sector. Digital innovations with the help of telemedicine, wearables, and e-commerce will change the way health services are delivered to patients. These would facilitate medical consultations, connected Point of Care (PoC) devices, through devices such as watches, mobile phones etc. For example, a significant development in healthcare will be in the area of predictive healthcare analytics, wherein the vital components of a human body can be monitored and any medical emergency that may arise can be quickly addressed.

E-commerce is facilitating the presence of online pharmacies, leading to easy availability of drugs. The e-commerce retail medicine market is expected to reach US$400 million in 2020. It is likely to see higher growth as more firms enter the market with innovative business models backed by global investors.

The Indian startup ecosystem is also deploying innovative technologies and is rapidly emerging as a notable player in the Indian healthcare sector. The startups are actively involved in providing diverse healthcare services related to hospital management, doctor discovery, and delivery of medicines as well as healthcare services.

Government Initiatives: The government has taken several initiatives in recent years to strengthen digital healthcare in India.

e-Hospital: e-Hospital is an open source health information management system, specifically meant for hospitals in the Government sector. Major functional areas covered by the system include patient care, laboratory services, work flow based document information exchange, human resources, and medical records management.

Digital AIIMS: With the objective of providing every patient, a unique digital identity, the Digital AIIMS project established an effective linkage between AIIMS, Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) and the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeiTY). A unique identification number is generated for every patient visiting AIIMS on an Aadhar platform.

NIKSHAY: NIKSHAY is a web enabled and case based monitoring application, developed by the National Informatics Centre (NIC) to effectively monitor the Revised National Tuberculosis Programme (RNTCP). NIKSHAY covers various aspects of controlling Tuberculosis with the help of technological innovations and also uses SMS services for effective communication with patients.

Mother & Child Tracking System (MCTS): Mother & Child Tracking System is an initiative by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare which uses information technology for ensuring healthcare and immunization services to pregnant women and children up to 5 years of age.

Digital Payments Promotion of digital payments is one of the foremost objectives under the “Digital India” program of the Government of India which envisions to transform India into a digitally empowered society and knowledge economy. A target of 91 crore digital transactions through five payment modes namely UPI, USSD, Aadhar Pay, IMPS and Debit cards, has been allocated to the healthcare sector for the financial year 2017-18.

External Engagements: The Pan African e-Network Project (PAENP) was conceived by former President of India, Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam and was formally launched on 26th February, 2009. Under this project, India has set up a fibre-optic network to provide tele-medicine and tele-education services to African countries. The project was set up with a view to create significant linkages for telemedicine, tele-education, internet, video-conferencing etc. and make available the facilities and expertise of some of the best universities and super-speciality hospitals in India to the people of Africa. The project is also equipped to support e-governance, e-commerce, resource-mapping and other services in African countries.

The digital healthcare system is rapidly evolving as an important segment in the Indian healthcare sector. However, there is a lot of untapped potential and plenty of opportunities for future growth. The digital journey has started for most companies but stakeholder engagement as well as digital presence needs to be scaled up. Across the verticals of pharmaceuticals, medical devices and equipment, diagnostics and hospitals, only a small proportion of companies are digitally active. With concerted efforts from the government as well as the private sector, digital healthcare could go on to redefine healthcare delivery in the country.

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