Amol R Deshmukh is the Founder and CEO of MedRabbits. He is responsible for the overall management, strategy and innovation of the company. He started his first business at the age of 12, a book library. After trying his hand twice at the start-up game, he recognized the importance of timing when it comes to product launches. MedRabbits was incidentally launched a few months before the pandemic when the demand for at-home services surged. Amol is a proud Freemason and his lodge has helped build rural toilets, assist disaster-stricken areas and send underprivileged children to school.
Over the last year, the Covid-19 pandemic has illustrated how much there is yet to be done in building solid health infrastructure. While we have fought valiantly against the virus, it was evident that we were not ready for the pandemic, and in many ways, we still aren’t ready for the next one. One dominant trend that emerged over this trying time was the success of technology applications in providing widespread patient care, streamlining operations and keeping track of infection rates while following social distancing norms.
Technology and Covid-19
When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, it was all hands on deck. Most healthcare workers were forced to work extra shifts to cater to the massive influx of patients, and makeshift wards were set up to house them. In addition, with a view to providing committed care for Covid-19 patients while protecting other patients from infection, other less-essential medical services were either curtailed or put on hold. All of this served to stretch India’s healthcare system to the breaking point while leaving open the question of how to continue providing quality medical services, Covid-19 or otherwise.
Enter health tech, which has powered the post-pandemic economy just as spectacularly as e-commerce and net banking. Apps like Aarogya Setu and Cowin enabled everyone to track health statuses, evaluate the safety of different places and get their vaccination appointments from home. Now, as the economy slowly opens up, social distancing and infection control continue to be priorities, which is where digital health can cover much of the gap. While face-to-face consultations cannot go away entirely, in my view, we are likely to see a hybrid healthcare delivery model where digital solutions are at the front and centre of operations. Patients and doctors too have adopted and accepted technology for the delivery of healthcare services.
The Benefits of Telehealth
Doctors who are working day and night do not have the time to cater to daily requests or minor ailments in person. Fortunately, with smartphones widely available, they don’t have to. Over the last year, consumers have increasingly taken to virtual consultations and ordering tests online, including home sample collections rather than going to a clinic. By taking the consultation process online, doctors can provide the necessary guidance through a simple chat, video or phone call, while devoting their in-person time to critical cases or medical research. Telehealth, in fact, can enable a stronger connection between doctors and patients as repeat consultations or follow-ups become much more affordable and convenient.
Rural health has traditionally suffered when it comes to last-mile delivery of services, with limited clinics and testing centres catering to a vast number of patients. Digital solutions can help by making the consultation process much more affordable and also by providing rural areas with go-to people if patients themselves aren’t comfortable using smartphones. Suitably trained digital healthcare assistants can input the patient’s details on remote management software that lets doctors access them through the Cloud and provide a diagnosis and recommendations. Further, the assistants can coordinate with the testing centre to schedule appointments and manage payments, using the language that rural people are comfortable with. This way, patients can get the right medical services when they need them, without struggling to navigate the healthcare delivery system on their own.
A third application is with regard to the diagnosis and treatment process itself. In this regard, it’s important to note that the use of AI and ML in a healthcare context is not new. Healthtech has been a growing segment in India for a while now, with a variety of apps scanning reports, matching patients with donors, delivering diagnoses based on blood reports or CT scans, connecting patients with clinics/laboratories and so on. As telemedicine continues to advance, consumer-facing apps can be equipped to do things like scanning a patient’s eye or other body parts right from home and store the data on the Cloud, for the physician to directly refer to as needed. This reduces the burden on medical manpower, who can be deployed to more critical/urgent cases, and also eliminates the possibility of human error. Moreover, the enhanced geographical coverage and time/cost savings involved are immense.
So what lies ahead for digital health solutions? The Government of India has set up a Health Cloud under its National Health Mission, with a view to collect electronic health records for every citizen. In my view, this will enable better decision-making for health policies and also provide the data pool required for AI to make better predictions about population health, which could significantly reduce treatment costs and improve health outcomes in the long run. The objective is for healthcare to become predictive, rather than reactive, so that more and more diseases are prevented or even eradicated through the right treatment and screening options.
India has committed to the 2030 Sustainable Development goal of universal healthcare for its citizens, and digital health solutions are instrumental in accomplishing that. Consumers have demonstrated their readiness to shift to virtual options, a trend that will only spike upwards across industries and sectors, and healthcare is no different. And as digital penetration and fluency improve, rural consumers could be just as equipped to opt for telemedicine as their urban counterparts. It is my firm belief that in the near future, one out of every three health consultations will be virtual – excellent news for a world that must remain vigilant against future health threats while making the most of the accessibility and inclusivity that digital solutions offer.