Technology fueling the Spark in the Healthcare Industry
Technology is pervasive and ubiquitous, it is wearable, and it is used in every aspect of our lives. Advances in computing and information technology are affecting the upcoming home healthcare industry in India. Although information technology has been used in healthcare before to bridge geographic distances and give people access to expert opinions without having to travel, I feel now, it can meaningfully contribute towards improving the quality of home healthcare services and enable its redesign, which in turn one hopes will be a catalyst in changing the way healthcare is delivered in a country like India.
The Indian healthcare scenario is dominated by hospitals, nursing homes, diagnostics centres and pharmaceuticals that constitute 65% of the overall market share. While the opportunities in India drive tremendous capital investment for advanced diagnostic facilities, the cost of medical services in the country has grown alongside too, making it, beyond the reach of the average citizen.
Moreover, despite the surge of investment, the Indian healthcare delivery lacks the momentum required to meet patient needs. This is because India’s healthcare system is paradoxical in many ways. While on the one hand, it is vying to be the next big destination for medical tourism with the ‘best in class’ healthcare delivery, on the other it paints a sorry picture with a near absence of accessible, affordable quality health services for a large part of its population. Existing infrastructure, especially in rural areas is inadequate to meet the ever growing needs of the Indian population. Less than 10% of the population is covered by health insurance, and we have less than 1/3rd doctors per capita compared to China, and almost 100th compared to the USA. The key question, therefore, is how to increase penetration of medical technology to improve health outcomes in India.
The Rise of Home Healthcare
Amid the rapidly increasing burden of chronic diseases and the demand for quality medical care, especially for the elderly, the market is now opening up for home-based healthcare services.
Caring for the elderly, ill, and those with chronic ailments in a home environment has always been a sore point, especially for the urban Indian. But, with the help of technology and the arrival of start-ups in this sector, providing home health care has become far easier too. Home healthcare has the potential to replace up to 65% of unnecessary hospital visits in India, and costs up to <20% incurred on hospital costs.
According to a study by CyberMedia Research, the market for home healthcare in India is projected to reach the US $6.2 Billion by 2020 from the US $3.2 billion, at a CAGR of 18% in 2016. Innovative technologies are expanding and streamlining access to care, and removing many of the obstacles that prevented doctors from properly monitoring homebound patients’ health and administering medication in the appropriate doses. The coming years are expected to witness greater deployment of tools such as telemedicine, teleradiology, hospital information systems (HIS)/hospital management information systems (HMIS), online or electronic medical records (EMR), and much more. And that is just scratching the surface, so to speak.
An example of how technology in healthcare can drive better outcomes is that of the treatment of diabetic patients, outside of a hospital environment. India bears the highest burden of communicable diseases in the world and is known as the diabetes capital globally. Self-blood glucose blood glucose monitoring technology has helped reduce the risks of serious hypoglycemia, irrespective of whether the patient is on oral drugs or insulin.
There is a clear focus on innovation among home healthcare startups in India, and companies are looking to bank on wearable medical devices to record patient data in real-time, which can trigger alerts in the system for quick and preemptive action. A strong digital infrastructure with IoT integration across personal devices, hospitals and public health care databases will help spur efficient growth. Innovations such as mobile health devices, technology integration with healthcare data and telemedicine strategies could reduce the burden on health systems while boosting healthier lives, reducing disabilities and increasing life expectancy.
Seizing the Opportunity
The challenges faced by the healthcare sector may be tough to get around, but not impossible. By streamlining processes and addressing traditional challenges, technology can bring a change across the healthcare sector. From using tablets and iPads to access patients’ records to using telemedicine to expand reach to rural communities, technology is already making inroads into every aspect of healthcare. Here’s how technology is likely to be leveraged over the next few years to solve some incumbent problems in the Indian healthcare ecosystem:
Focus on caregiver: The International Telecommunication Union estimates that, in only four years (2007–2011), mobile broadband subscriptions in the developing world increased by more than tenfold: from 43 million to 458 million. Innovations in e-learning, electronic health (eHealth) & mobile health (mHealth) and in the social media can be leveraged to train, deploy, support and empower health workers. Moreover, mobile devices and access to the internet will enable on-the-job monitoring and intervention with the caregiver, while also connecting multiple caregivers working on the same patient (For e.g. physiotherapy exercises administered by a paramedic). Training methods based on video conferencing, webcasting, recording, localization and playback of training can enable global access to the very best educators and are more cost-effective than standard face-to-face educational programs.
Developing patient-centric Information Systems: Replacing paper with computerized summaries makes patient care easier and more efficient. In the future, the quantity of information will increase dramatically because of genomics and personalized medicine, and as more patient data is collected, more insights will become available. We need software to collect data on patient illness, treatments and outcomes, to automatically obtain valuable information on the effectiveness of those treatments or relations between side effects and patient characteristics across whole populations. Once the infrastructure is in place, the incremental cost of adding one new patient will be essentially nothing, and this economy of scale will drive further technical developments.
The Way Forward
Technology automates and extends things that previously had to be done by people, but is no way here to replace human manpower where it matters most – in providing the right care. On the contrary, technology drives healthcare more than any other force, and in the future, it will continue to develop in dramatic ways, helping humans increase their efficiency at every step. Today, new home care technologies—Internet-enabled home monitors, apps for mobile health, and telemedicine—are bringing aspects of advanced care into patients’ homes. Expanded technology-enabled home care offers a promising pathway to bend the cost curve for ever-growing health care expenditures.
This article has been authored by Vipin Pathak C0-Founder & CEO, Care24