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Digital Health: ICT adoption ensures better access to medical services

March 02, 2017

Digital Health: ICT adoption ensures bet...

Although the Indian healthcare space is yet to embrace IT and telecom solutions in a big way, the industry has started realising the potential benefits that these solutions promise in terms of quality service delivery and operational efficiency. Going forward, m-health and telemedicine can transform the healthcare situation, especially in remote areas. Enterprises operating in this space talk about the emerging IT trends, the current status of adoption of the latest technologies and the future outlook…

How have the information and communications technology (ICT) requirements for the healthcare sector changed in recent years?

Abhimanyu Bhosale

One of the biggest technology changes in the healthcare space has been the adoption of the cloud and scalable solutions. However, the adoption of these solutions has not yet reached its peak because more than 90 per cent of the diagnostic industry and more than 80 per cent of the healthcare provider space, especially hospitals, are unorganised in terms of IT. The adoption of IT has been occurring at different stages. The first stage of adoption was primarily aimed at point of sale (PoS) systems. Most hospitals have adopted a system for billing and PoS. It also needs to be adopted for medical record management, inventories consumption, bed management and patient management.

Bruce Schwack

The key IT solution that has been deployed by healthcare enterprises is electronic health records (EHR). About 18 months ago, the prime minister too had declared that it is essential for every Indian to enjoy the benefits of EHR.

At Netmeds, we have just launched Healthmemo, our own highly refined EHR. We have also released its corporate version, Medmemo, a combined EHR and online pharmacy application with a one-touch capability for corporates to easily access medicines and file their annual me-dical reimbursements to the human resources department seamlessly.

What are the key challenges in the adoption of telemedicine and m-health in the Indian market? How are these segments expected to evolve going forward?

Abhimanyu Bhosale

Telemedicine has two different levels. One is customer-to-provider telemedicine and the other is provider-to-provider telemedicine. Currently, the latter is witnessing an increased adoption. To this end, the government of Rajasthan is taking initiatives by promoting the technology in rural areas and enabling tele-consultations and telehealth there with help from hospitals.

Meanwhile, radiology centres across India have been using leased lines and spending a lot on infrastructure for supporting tele-radiology, which is the largest sector of telemedicine. However, unless the entire system is automated, and inter-operability becomes simpler and standardised, telemedicine will not be adopted by a large number of enterprises.

On the other hand, m-health is in its infancy. Most healthcare services available online today are first interaction-based services. First interaction means that most services allow a one-way interaction with the user and the application. However, finding a hospital and booking an app-ointment is one aspect of m-health that has been addressed by aggregators and online services.

The second challenge is enabling better interaction, consultation and telehealth. The primary challenge, however, is the adoption of IT. If a doctor needs to consult patients online, he has to have access to proper infrastructure including digital medical records and digital services. Further, he needs to overcome some legal restrictions.

Bruce Schwack

The greatest challenge is the formulation of a mass database to which everyone can input data and which will be accessible to all providers. However, today, even some hospitals within the same chain do not share their information.

M-health is a tool that empowers everyone with a smartphone to play an active role in their own healthcare management. With wide access to doctors through telemedicine apps, and a number of legitimate online and brick-and-mortar pharmacies all supplying medicines, it is essential that all providers upload prescriptions, reports, test results in real time so that patients and providers alike have access to the most current patient history.

What are some of the IT initiatives taken by your organisation? What are the resulting advantages for the company?

Abhimanyu Bhosale

One way in which we are trying to solve problems related to IT in healthcare is by providing connectivity for all. We see a healthcare ecosystem as a network and not as an individual provider. The existing online platforms always consider the bigger brands in the healthcare space. However, they constitute only 10 per cent of the total volume in healthcare. This means that 90 per cent of the daily volume that goes through the healthcare ecosystem is untapped.

At LiveHealth, we are connecting all healthcare service providers. Our initiative is to have a software-as-a-service (SaaS) platform, which is affordable for healthcare providers. We have started sharing medical records on request from patients across healthcare providers. If a patient switches from one healthcare provider to another, he can transfer these records in a click. Further, a doctor practising in different hospitals does not need to access the IT systems of these hospitals separately. She can just access the LiveHealth application for monitoring all her clinics, laboratories, diagnostics and hospitals where she is visiting and consulting.

Bruce Schwack

Our entire business is IT-based. We have literally invented the online pharmacy business, from the concept of using WhatsApp, allowing patients to upload prescriptions, to employing a staff of highly skilled pharmacists capable of discerning and then digitising the details of a handwritten prescription. Deploying these strategies has allowed us to not only grow to more than a million customers in less than 18 months, it has also given us access to comprehensive database that was not accessible before. With more than 500,000 prescriptions in hand, we probably have more detailed information about actual pharmaceutical consumers, based on the prescriptions written, than has been known ever before.

What are the key IT and telecom-related challenges faced by healthcare enterprises? How can these be resolved?

Abhimanyu Bhosale

Technical literacy in healthcare providers like laboratory technicians, nurses and reception staff is a problem.

Further, the standardisation of how data communication occurs in healthcare is still a challenge. Even if one healthcare provider, say Apollo, is using a system and Manipal hospitals is using another system, they are not working with each other on the same network.

Further, the competitive landscape is very regional. There is no national competitive landscape as there are just one or two national competitors that are actually scaling up on a national level. The way in which people in Delhi use the system in their overall daily healthcare process is very different from the way in which people in Mumbai use it. There is a change in daily operations and style of working, which depends on the region. For example, consider the diagnostics industry in North India. Here, the collection happens at the collection centre and the processing centre just processes the samples with a pre-barcoded system. However, in the case of Mumbai, the collection and management is happening at the processing centre and not at the collection centre. Also, the style of maintaining medical records in terms of how they capture patient data, also changes. In a lot of metro cities, a large amount of patient data is captured and they have it in their daily processes. However, in Tier II or Tier III cities, patient data capturing is not always the top priority.

Bruce Schwack

Being diligent about data security is always one of the key drivers in any enterprise, but in healthcare, there are even greater privacy issues involved.

What are the key technology trends likely to be witnessed by the healthcare industry in the next few years?

Abhimanyu Bhosale

SaaS is going to be a key trend. SaaS as a business model has changed a lot of IT platforms and services because it removes dependency on the capital investment model and converts it to an operational model.

The second emerging trend likely to be witnessed in the next few years is that of increased digital interaction with healthcare providers. These multi-faced digital interactions will include not only bookings but also other interactions such as consulting doctors and paying bills online.

In future, the SaaS model will lead to an increased adoption of cloud. This means that patients are going to expect more digital interaction. Therefore, we are going to witness an increase in the number of platforms which leverage this opportunity. Currently, some platforms provide patient feedbacks, while some enable payments digitally, etc. However, they are fragmented. Going forward, we will see a consolidation of these platforms.

Bruce Schwack

Certainly, big data will play the biggest role in the healthcare industry. The accumulation and assessment of data will lead to a new era of predictive medicines, wherein healthcare providers and managers can manage a patient’s disease onset before it strikes. This could lead to an overall brighter picture for national healthcare and perhaps even a less expensive future cost burden for the nation and the patient. Like the old adage says, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.


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