As we experience paradigm shifts in healthcare delivery, it is time to look at modern solutions for traditional problems.
One of the persistent issues in healthcare delivery, is - the iron triangle, as they refer to it in healthcare - of equity, affordability, and accessibility. Every time there is an attempt to address one of these issues (parameters), the solution invariably has a negative impact on the other parameters. For instance, if one is trying to make high quality healthcare more accessible, then affordability is negatively impacted.
But the future of healthcare is now driven by digital technologies that are expected to not only address the gaps and problems in existing healthcare delivery models but to also make both basic and subspecialist healthcare accessible to patients at any point in their medical journey, with outcomes that are in line with the standards of care across the world.
Healthcare delivery is complex and to make technology work for healthcare providers and the people, it is crucial to create sustained, evidence based and documented patient impact.
Technology is your best bet is to deliver quality healthcare at scale. In India, doctor-patient ratios, when compared to Western European countries are abysmally low, but some of these problems in the delivery of quality healthcare can be addressed in an efficient and cost-effective manner without having to achieve similar doctor patient ratios, by leveraging technology.
For instance, Cloudphysician Healthcare provides access to highly trained specialist doctors to hospitals that would otherwise not have had access to them, building an ecosystem of high-quality care at an affordable cost. In effect, using technology as a force multiplier to open up availability and accessibility to quality healthcare to a much larger population of patients, without having to ramp up capacity in the traditional sense.
Technology is inherently flexible and malleable. So, if the technology led solutions are user centric and the design is fairly straightforward, then user adoption is quick and then there is potential to scale up.
While COVID-19 fast tracked our reliance on technology-based healthcare and nudged us towards transitioning, there still are barriers that need to be addressed before digital healthcare delivery becomes a more mainstream reality.
For medical professionals to become early adopters of technology and become truly future ready, the medical education system needs to be revamped. For healthtech platforms to be incorporated into mainstream healthcare, technologists need to work hand-in-hand with domain experts, to identify, understand and solve problems that are relevant and critical.
Incidentally, IIT Kanpur has a School of Medical Research and Technology bringing together engineers and doctors on the same campus, essentially allowing for cross pollination of ideas and laying the ground for healthtech innovation.
One of the biggest impediments to transitioning to digital delivery of healthcare is the lack of interoperable platforms that can freely allow access to healthcare data. The Government of India’s National Digital Health Mission (NDHM) and various private enterprises are attempting to address these operational and process issues so that data points do not remain in silos and an integrated digital healthcare ecosystem is created.
People are typically not averse to sharing their data in the construct of healthcare delivery, but in the digital ecosystem, it is critical that healthcare providers, platforms and companies entrusted with patient data, should build ethically compliant systems that are secure and protect the data of their patients. This will pave the way for a smoother and more universal adoption.
To overcome these barriers to adoption and for telemedicine to become a holistic success,stakeholders such as our government agencies, NGOs and private hospitals play an important role.
The Government determines the landscape for innovation, for instance, it’s National Digital Health Mission (NDHM) has various interconnected concepts, ideas, and, and frameworks that will determine how the healthtech industry will function. For instance, there is a consent manager framework and a sandbox which will universalise consent management. There is also a framework for different technologies to communicate with each other, so that patient data is accessible to the patient’s health care providers, no matter where in the country, the patient chooses to get treated. However, the Government would need to incentivise these organisations, both private and public to able to mandate that healthcare platforms must communicate with each other.
Healthtech companies also need to incorporate components of data safety, patient confidentiality, and availability and accessibility to medical records into their business models. It is therefore important that there is a regulatory framework in place, which builds in these mechanisms and protections for the patients and consumers.
While COVID acted as a catalyst for private hospitals to rapidly adopt telemedicine to connect with patients, they are continuing to build on it. NGOs have also found that technology can be used for provision of high-quality care in an affordable and cost-effective manner. This is indicative of the general direction that the industry is moving in. It is in favour of technology democratisation for provision of quality healthcare in an affordable, accessible, and equitable manner.
Technology in and of itself is not the solution to achieving a patient centric integrated healthcare system in India. Technology is merely the enabler, which will help bolster healthcare delivery. And for technology led healthcare delivery to become a mainstream solution, we will need a greater, more universal adoption. It is therefore incumbent on the people building these solutions to design them in way that that is easily adoptable by the user.