Time For India To Embrace Digital Health
In India, digital innovations in healthcare have, typically, come into existence out of sheer necessity. In recent times, we have seen them evolve as a response to the global Covid-19 outbreak. Prime Minister Narendra Modi's announcement of the National Digital Health Mission on India's 74th Independence Day bears a testament to the importance of digitization in healthcare, particularly in the current scenario.
Simply put, digitization involves the coming together of medical knowledge and IT applications or technologies to help improve healthcare. Whether it entails harnessing key data through smart wearables and digital devices or using algorithms based on artificial intelligence to screen patients, digitization can be a game-changer, transforming healthcare in myriad ways.
The pandemic made adapting to telemedicine or teleconsultation inevitable, considering the health risks posed by physical consultations. In record time, healthcare providers and patients moved into virtual sessions, turning the threat into a new opportunity.
With the Indian Government notifying the Telemedicine Practice Guidelines earlier this year, patients in India can now consult with doctors over chat, audio, or video for diagnosis. For cancer patients who often have to travel far and wait long to get an appointment with an oncologist, timely teleconsultations can be the biggest differentiator between those who survive and those who succumb to the disease.
A digital health ecosystem can democratize access to quality care, thereby ensuring early detection and treatment of most cancers
An insightful report, published by McKinsey Global Institute in 2019, titled `Digital India: Technology to transform a connected nation', states that India can save nearly $10 billion if 30-40 percent of face-to-face consultations make way for teleconsultation by 2025. By leveraging technology for healthcare delivery, India can address many long-standing challenges.
Better access & quality
According to the 2019 World Health Statistics Report, released for World Health Day, access to healthcare and quality of care in India is abysmally poor, with the country ranked among the lowest worldwide. This was despite India improving its ranking on global healthcare access and quality (HAQ) index from 153 in 1990 to 145 in 2016.
Digitization can help bridge the yawning gap, particularly in the rural and semi-urban areas, which are currently under served. For instance, in India, there are only 0.98 oncologists per million population and they are mostly based in the urban sectors. A digital health ecosystem can democratize access to quality care, thereby ensuring early detection and treatment of most cancers.
Tracking compliance, by monitoring disease conditions remotely, can be empowering, particularly in cases where adherence to therapy is critical. This will not only help cut down on healthcare costs but also facilitate better management of chronic healthcare conditions given the rising prevalence of lifestyle-related diseases like diabetes and cardiac ailments in India.
Powered by data
Digitization can make the patient's medical history easily accessible, and thus enable immediate medical attention. Data on biomarkers and genetic predispositions can help healthcare providers to zero in on anomalies early, possibly pre-empting a healthcare crisis.
Another advantage of embracing digitization is when a patient's medical condition cancer, for instance necessitates doctors from different specialties often coming together to chalk out the treatment plan. A digital platform facilitates interoperability, seamless exchange of ideas and discussions in real-time, enabling faster and more efficient decisions.
Under the National Digital Health Mission, every Indian citizen will now have unique health IDs, digitized health records with identifiers for doctors and health facilities. A digital health ecosystem will, undoubtedly, bring in more efficiency and transparency in healthcare services across the country. And it could not have come at a better time.
Today, smartphone apps are helping people track health risks, while hospital reports are getting uploaded to government dashboards. The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the adoption of digitization in healthcare.
For India, the focus needs to be on building a nationwide digital infrastructure, driven by innovation and agility. The need of the hour is to integrate digital data and technology into the national health systems, a single repository of medical records of all citizens. We need to think not just about maintaining electronic data, but also about ensuring data privacy and trust in the healthcare system.
Predictive and preventive care is the future of medicine. And digital health tools hold the promise of realizing India's vision of `Health for All' - making healthcare truly accessible and affordable for all citizens.