India is an economy of about $3 trillion and is the fifth-largest economy in the world, but unfortunately, it has one of the lowest spending on public health in comparison to the leading world economies. Currently, the whole world is reeling under the COVID-19 pandemic with India as one of the most affected countries. The overstretched health infrastructure is facing the brunt of this and is under tremendous pressure to manage the patient load. This has created an opportunity to digitize the health-infrastructure and health care services in the country. Focus on digital health will be a step in the right direction for the Indian healthcare system.
Firstly, inaccessibility to healthcare is a significant concern for patients across geographies, which has been further worsened by COVID-19. This pandemic has disrupted the normal functioning of the Out-Patient Departments (OPDs) of most leading hospitals in the country with non-COVID patients missing out on much-needed care—either due to the non-availability of the hospital staff for non-COVID related care or the patients avoiding physician visits for fear of contracting the virus. This unprecedented situation has forced the hospitals and clinics to go digital, leading to a surge in telemedicine services, which constituted a very negligible percentage earlier. The home healthcare service providers have witnessed a strong demand for their services. This has come as a boon to patients who are unwilling to go to the health centers due to the COVID-19 fear and to the HCPs (healthcare professionals) who can now reach out to patients in small towns with little or no accessibility to physicians or healthcare services.
Secondly, with the help of digitisation, electronic medical records (EMRs) can be created for patients. The EMRs will reduce inefficiencies associated with physical or ‘hard-copy’ system; for example, incorrect patient name on medical records, loss of medical records, storage of, and access to patient medical and treatment history including diagnostic reports, among others. Thus, a database housing each patient’s medical and treatment records can be used to create an interconnected system. A digital system connecting comprehensive patient records will assist the physicians in developing better insights, and, thereby, enable an efficient system with improved and personalized decision making. Also, access to their data will empower the patients to make well-informed choices leading to an improvement in patient satisfaction.
Thirdly, with digital management systems, healthcare providers can better manage patient waiting time, and patient volume. The digital tools can also help with better utilization of equipment’s as well as their maintenance, thus reducing the operational costs for the healthcare providers.
Further, the use of digital tools to connect the primary healthcare centers (PHCs), subcenters (SCs), and community health centers (CHCs) to the district hospital and the nearest multispecialty hospital will reduce the time involved in replenishing the stocks of essential medicines at the health centers. Also, digital tools can support the government in addressing the problem of absenteeism among healthcare workers, and thus increase their accountability.
The government of India is focusing on digitising the Indian healthcare system with its policy of national digital health mission whose goal is to create a digital identity for every Indian and connect them to quality care. Digital health could well be the surely the right step in creating universal healthcare coverage for every Indian and ascertaining our basic fundamental right of health for every individual. The article has been contributed by Sanghamitra Sharma, Assistant Professor - Marketing (Healthcare Management), S.P. Mandali’s Prin. L. N. Welingkar Institute of Management Development and Research (WeSchool), Mumbai.
[This article has been reproduced with permission from Welingkar Institute of Management Development and Research (WeSchool)]