Integrating the Technological Revolution with Public Health

The past few years have been fraught with stories of trauma, unperceivable loss, and inspiring struggles. However, one silver lining which has emerged from times of Covid-19, is how the pandemic has brought to focus the renewed commitment to ‘Healthcare’. Prior to this global health crisis, the zeal toward ensuring proper implementation of Sustainable Development Goals, especially the goal of ensuring ‘Good health and well-being’, was rather low on the priority list of both public and private players. The past year has witnessed a series of initiatives, start-ups and opportunities propping up in the field of healthcare. Technology has been quickly permeating the domain and promises to be a positively disruptive force. Statistics speak louder than words. In 2021 itself, healthcare start-ups raised $1.3 billion, as against $316 million in 2020. According to a report by advisory firm RBSA Advisors, the health-tech market in India is expected to touch $50 billion by 2033.

Technology has largely come to be seen as a cure to India’s ailing health problems. Shortages of doctors and medical experts, for instance, present a major challenge. A report by KPMG notes that nearly 74 per cent of the doctors in India practice in urban areas. This shows the lack of access to medical healthcare in rural areas. Technological interventions can help in solving this issue. In 2018, a cardiac surgeon from Gujarat performed the world’s first telerobotic surgery, from a distance of 32 km away from the patient. The success of the surgery showed the potential to considerably improve the access of doctors in rural and under-served areas. 

Affordability and accessibility to quality healthcare, present a matter of concern. The Economic Survey of 2021 revealed that India has one of the highest levels of Out of Pocket Expenditure (OOPE). Telemedicine reduces the cost of healthcare. Telehealth visits, on average, cost less than in-office visits.  This is in addition to the savings associated with time and travel costs. It is a known fact that radiology services are quite expensive. However, with the availability of remote analytical services like teleradiology and tele-ICU, resource pooling has been made possible. This allows smaller facilities to provide uninterrupted medical care, at a fraction of the original costs. Teleconsultation makes it possible for a patient sitting in the eastern end of the country, to seek the medical opinion of a doctor practising in the heart of Delhi.

NITI Aayog’s National Strategy for Artificial Intelligence states that advancements in technology can help solve some long-standing problems in the sector. The government is fast moving towards integrating technology with healthcare. The Union Budget of 2022-23 laid out grand plans for the National tele-mental health programme and Ayushman Bharat Digital Health Mission. The prior will consist of a network of 23 tele-mental health centres of excellence,  while the latter will include digital registries of health providers and facilities, unique health identities, a consent framework, and universal access to health facilities.

A central push to bring on a revolution in healthcare services is undoubtedly a welcome step. However, the cost associated with setting up an efficient healthcare infrastructure needs to be kept in mind. The current pressure on the Indian economy to perform better makes the case for proper channelisation of resources. Funds from the CSR mode of big organisations, if managed effectively, can provide an efficient channel of investments. This can help in acquiring new equipment, and building stronger and more affordable healthcare infrastructure. 

A case for Public Private Partnerships (PPP) can also be made in this scenario. A well-managed PPP model brings in the expertise and finances, which are needed to further India’s growth story. Notably,  Public-Private Partnerships that work on a mass scale can help in reducing the costs of the services while retaining quality standards. While the pitfalls of depending upon the private sector in a critical domain can also be argued for, the model requires a critical, strategic, long term and sustainable vision for reaping the benefits of technology.

The road towards a sustainable healthcare infrastructure standing on the silos of technology, is by no means an easy one to tread. The research and trials that go into making patient-friendly healthcare products have a long gestation period. It also requires the stakeholders to provide consent to part with their data. Despite the initial challenges, the technological revolution in the domain offers immense potential for a wide-reaching impact.

References:

  1. ‘Healthcare: Tech can do wonders for public health’, Financial Express, available at: https://www.financialexpress.com/industry/technology/healthcare-tech-can-do-wonders-for-public-health/2541655/ 
  2. ‘ Technology Adoption is the key to solving India’s challenge of access to a more equitable healthcare System’. Financial Express, available at https://www.financialexpress.com/healthcare/healthtech/technology-adoption-is-the-key-to-solving-indias-challenge-of-access-to-a-more-equitable-healthcare-system/2574495/
  3. Gujarat Doctor Makes History, Performs World’s 1st Robotic Heart Surgery 30 km Away from Patient’, News 18, available at: https://www.news18.com/news/india/gujarat-doctor-makes-history-performs-worlds-1st-robotic-heart-surgery-30-km-away-from-patient-1961729.html
  4.  Economic Survey | ‘High out-of-pocket expenses for health can lead to poverty’. The Hindu, available at: https://www.thehindu.com/business/Economy/economic-survey-high-out-of-pocket-expenses-for-health-can-lead-to-poverty/article33699314.ece 
  5. Telemedicine can help lower the cost of healthcare, The Times of India, available at: https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/blogs/voices/telemedicine-can-help-lower-the-cost-of-healthcare/ 
  6.  ‘India reveals latest digital health projects’, HIMSS, available at: https://www.healthcareitnews.com/news/asia/india-reveals-latest-digital-health-projects 

About Haripriya Arora

Haripriya is a Political Science post-graduate who is currently working as a Research Specialist at Gartner. She has previously worked in the domain of policy and government affairs, with leading tech companies, union ministries and international organisations.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.

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