Technology's Pivotal Role in Healthcare Access

Sumit Puri, Chief Information Officer, Max Super SpecialtyHealthcare is one of the fastest growing industries in India, expected to expand at a CAGR of 18.3 percent during 2012–20 to reach $280 billion. Yet, the fast-paced growth of this sector has not matched the demand gap for access to quality healthcare. The spiralling costs of care, shortage of trained healthcare personnel (India has a doctor to patient ratio of 1:1700, as against WHO recommended levels of 1:1000) and lack of infrastructure are a reality of the sector. A growing disease burden, especially with the emergence of lifestyle diseases such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and cancer have put further strain on the Indian healthcare ecosystem.

In such a scenario, technology solutions play a pivotal role in bridging gaps in healthcare access. Technology enabled care, which involves the convergence of health technology, digital media and mobile devices has multi-pronged benefits to offer in the current Indian context: Enhancing reach and access across geographies, reducing costs, improving the quality and outcomes of healthcare procedures as well as providing a more personalized and versatile approach to healthcare.

With dynamic technology solutions at hand, the future of healthcare is in holistic continuum of care provided at home going beyond curative care available at hospitals. Remote technology enabled care is being driven by innovative IoT devices and mobility solutions, powered by big data analytics that would facilitate continuous patient engagement and augment the care-giving process:

Mobility Solutions: According to a PwC report on Future of India, India’s digital connectivity is expected to grow from 15 percent in 2014 to 80 percent access in 2034, with rural Internet users increasing by 58 percent annually. This creates scope for building and renewing programmes in telemedicine and IT-enabled healthcare systems. Such solutions would be geared to address specific on-ground challenges in consultation, treatment and continuing education for healthcare service providers.

This has not only aided a shift towards greater patient empowerment and control over their treatment, but also supported healthcare providers to optimize their workflow and engagement for more efficient outcomes. For example, remote patient
monitoring systems are enabling real-time collaboration between doctors and patients. This is especially beneficial for the elderly and the mobility-challenged, where primary healthcare can be shifted towards 'home care' through e-prescriptions, e-consultations and treatment monitoring.

For a country like India, there is a dire need to look at ‘technology leapfrogging’ to build more efficient and scalable healthcare models, at a faster pace

Automation & Digitization: Healthcare management is lately witnessing a shift towards electronic health record systems. Moving beyond the constraints of traditional patient care, this enables speedy and comprehensive access to all aspects of patients’ health – ensuring reduction in medical errors. The collected data can also be harnessed to drive analytics-based decision making and collaboration on similar cases, among clinicians.

Big Data Analytics: The use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in healthcare has typically worked well for surveillance and data gathering, however it is also enabling increase in health literature and education. For clinicians, this translates into designing and delivering ‘precision healthcare’. For patients, it opens new frontiers by empowering them with information, enabling them to discuss best treatment modalities across the globe.

At Max healthcare and other leading medical institutions, several initiatives are being undertaken to integrate different medical databases and facilitate standardisation of clinical diagnosis and procedures in Electronic health record systems – bypassing geographic boundaries and enabling insights and access to information knowledge base. This knowledge base integrated with digital and mobile delivery tools, leveraging analysis and care management protocols, will be built at scale, and support patient-centred, outcome-based delivery models for larger populations. Machine learning (Artificial Intelligence) based analytics will also play a pivotal role in addressing the inherent need to have round-the-clock, omnipresent services at highest efficiency levels.

Wearables & Biosensors: One of the most exciting mobility solutions in recent times has been wearable technology lased with increasing sophistication which is mapping numerous aspects and parameters of patient health and tabulating the same in statistics. From fitness bands to unobtrusive ingestible devices – the increasing adoption of these solutions has not only given patients control on their history and treatment but also allowed for more personalized care and precision medicine. Further evolution in this space will allow cloud-based syncing of patient information with hospital/ clinician databases, round-the-clock monitoring of vital signs which would facilitate holistic wellness and pre empt any potential medical episode. On the other hand gamification and competition based apps that encourage users to achieve goals, is an answer to tackle the 'preventive' aspect by managing lifestyle diseases.

Technology is at the cusp of revolutionizing outcome-driven care delivery models. And for a country like India, there is a dire need to look at 'technology leapfrogging' to build more efficient and scalable healthcare models, at a faster pace. A successful leapfrogging will involve coming together of: More innovative and disruptive technology solutions customized to our country’s specific needs, Consistent iterations and developments of 'operating models' for better healthcare delivery and ‘Behavioural change’ measures for all stakeholders to build a cohesive and accessible healthcare roadmap.