In the healthcare landscape in India is evidently skewed heavily in favour of urban and semi-urban areas. While there are healthcare establishments and hospitals every few kilometres in metros and larger cities; smaller cities, towns, and even large villages portray a very barren setting, where people may have to travel great distances to seek healthcare.
The advent of the internet, coupled with affordable smart phones across every nook and corner of India, have produced a more informed population. We are increasingly aware of self care and our health conditions, likely disease management methods and treatments for our conditions, the ideal facilities for these treatments, as well as other remote channels that can help connect with healthcare providers. The increasing use of telemedicine, mHealth, health related wearable devices, and virtual health among other versatile applications are reducing the communication gap between healthcare seekers and providers.
Studies show that the global remote healthcare market is expected to grow at an annual rate of almost 18%, valuing it at 37 billion dollars by 2023. With a population pegged at over 1.3 billion, a majority of which is unattended to as far as healthcare is concerned, with the right intent and application India stands to be a major contributor to this sector.
As a hospital consultant, here are my views on some factors that are likely to provide a boost to the remote healthcare market in India
- Lack of hospitals – Given the length and breadth of our country, establishing hospitals all over is a long and expensive process for both the private sector as well as the government. While this needs to be addressed, there is a massive chunk of our population that isn’t receiving adequate healthcare currently and this is potentially a viable market for healthcare providers. With the use of applications like telemedicine, using a hub and spoke model, hospitals are already in the process of establishing out-centres in small towns, tier2 and tier 3 cities as well as villages to provide virtual healthcare.
- Lack of confidence in investing in hospitals – This ties in with the previous point. Given the substantial investment that needs to be made in terms of time and money, the gestation period, the lack of sufficient medical talent on a consistent basis around the country, and changing norms and regulations, those with an interest in establishing hospitals are now treading with caution. Many might see more value in using virtual health to provide healthcare using their current resources and facilities.
- Improved telecommunication – Connected health services has breathed new life into communication, diagnosis, treatment, and subsequent patient monitoring in remote locations. This also allows healthcare providers to address the needs of a larger number of healthcare seekers in remote locations at a much lower cost.
- Digitised patient records – Several applications are already floating around the market that have a provision for capturing and storing detailed and organized patient records in digital form. This would allow patients to share information with healthcare providers remotely, as and how they choose. Combined with online consultations, digitized records allow patients to get multiple opinions on their health conditions and make more informed decisions in finalizing their preferred healthcare provider.
- Wearable healthcare technology – As technology has advanced, and more participants have entered this domain, wearable technology has gotten cheaper for the end consumer. Furthermore, this automates healthcare tracking and reduces unnecessary communication between patients and doctors. The wearable devices would talk directly to monitoring devices at the healthcare facilities and manual intervention would be required only when the situation calls for.
- The need for data – Indian healthcare lacks comprehensive healthcare data and is available only in unconnected bits and pieces. For the progress of this industry, research, and to be able to foresee disease patterns, treatment methodologies, healthcare seeking habits, among other parameters, capturing true data has become imperative. All the aforementioned digital technologies will address this need.
Social duty – While the healthcare industry exists to serve, it is also a business and needs to be sustainable and even profitable. Having said that, as a hospital consultant, I believe that the desire to reap profits has far outweighed the aspiration to serve in recent times. A large majority of the Indian population is unattended to by healthcare providers and that in itself is a question on not just our intent but also our ability to serve them and perform our duty. With better collaboration, technology, and a heart to do good, we can certainly fill this gap.