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Remote Care

The pandemic has fast-tracked adoption of smart healthcare solutions globally

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Over the last year, Covid-19 has been a burden on global healthcare systems. It has forced governments, public and private sector to rethink healthcare delivery strategy. This has led to fast-tracking digital transformation by more than 10 times and this is just the beginning.

Though many technology enabled solutions existed, patients, doctors and medical providers were reluctant to adopt those. They preferred the traditional in-person, face-to-face diagnosis. The pandemic pushed healthcare providers to focus on quickly adapting to changing times. This meant constant connect with customer needs. For many, the solution pivoted around technology and digital health.

Bright Future

According to a recent Deloitte report, global healthcare spending is expected to expand at a CAGR of 4 per cent over 2021-'24, up from 2.8 per cent during 2015-'19. Global healthcare spending as a share of GDP will remain at around 10.3 per cent through 2023, slightly ahead of 2019's ratio. However, spending will be unevenly spread, ranging from $12,703 in the US to just $37 in Pakistan in 2024. Even though we are expecting significant growth, segments of the population might still struggle to access quality care. The best solution shall be adopting digital and information technology, which helped cut costs in many sectors.

Recent reports suggest the global healthcare IT market, valued at $185 billion in 2019, is expected to surpass $662 billion by 2026. Till now, it has been driven by rising elderly population, strong economic growth in emerging markets and health insurance reforms. Going forward, growth will be driven by government initiatives to adopt digitisation in healthcare, technological developments and increasing prevalence of diseases due to sedentary lifestyles. The pandemic will ensure currently instituted infrastructure to control spread of infectious diseases is strengthened to prevent another pandemic of this magnitude.

India is expected to be at the forefront, having emerged as one of the fastest-growing digital economies over the past few years, characterised by 90 per cent growth in terms of digital adoption index, from 2014 to 2017. India's healthcare sector has embraced digital transformation. In revenue terms, India's digital healthcare market was valued at Rs 11,661 crore in 2018, and is estimated to reach Rs 48,543 crore by 2024, expanding at a CAGR of 27.41 per cent during 2019-24.

Smart Systems, Automation

Unlike retail and manufacturing, which benefitted significantly from technology adoption, healthcare had been left behind. The pandemic was a huge impetus as clinicians and patients realised that with technology they can easily reach and engage with each other while remaining safe. This led to the advent of Telemedicine, Remote medicine and Internet of Things (IoT)-based technological solutions in a big way.

Now we have smart hospital systems and electronic medical record systems, with regulators working alongside insurance payers to drive standardisation and automation. This brought in better utilisation of resources and available manpower, addressing one of the key concerns of healthcare providers regarding high operational costs and limited availability of talented professionals. This laid the grounds for a sustainable future for healthcare.

Smart Hospitals

According to the UN, world population could exceed 8.5 billion by 2030 and by 2050, the number of people over 60 years will be double compared to 2015. The 60+ age group requires most medical care and hospitalisation.

To meet this rising need with available resources, hospital systems need to adopt digital transformation and introduce 'smart' infrastructure using Artificial Intelligence (AI), data analytics and IoT, to create integrated and efficient spaces, suited to the needs of patients and providers.

The care model is being shifted to patients homes, with appointments being fixed online, doctors on tele-consultation, lab samples collected at home, follow-up with physicians happening virtually and door-step delivery of medicines. This is here to stay. Patients will visit hospitals only for advanced tests or surgical procedures.

This has encouraged innovation. During the pandemic, the concept of Tele-ICU or Remote ICU was introduced where critical care experts from India supported doctors in Gulf Cooperation Council countries to serve critically ill Covid-positive patients. The future of hospitals will be consumer driven, where doctors and nurses will meet patients at home digitally.

AI, IOT and Remote Health

IoT-based devices such as wearables and sensors, when worn, continuously monitor vital parameters and transmit data to hospital systems for doctors to monitor remotely. When an IoT-based solution is supported with an AI algorithm and Machine Learning, it assists clinicians with predictive analytics and helps them take informed decisions. When algorithms start training themselves with reinforced learning, we have a more trained assistant capable of providing pre-emptive alerts to clinicians.

Remote Medical Intervention

The advent of 5G will revolutionise care delivery. Experienced surgeons in India can operate on patients in the US digitally using advanced robotics such as the DaVinci Robotic system. Technology can also break geographical barriers to make healthcare accessible. Solutions, including Teleradiology and Telemonitoring enable doctors to treat patients across geographies.

Containing Costs

The rising cost of healthcare is one of the major deterrents. In India, 50-60 million people fall into poverty due to high out-of-pocket healthcare expenses, according to CII. This is similar to most developing countries where the bulk of the population continues to fund healthcare expenses out of pocket.

Using technology, costs can be contained and healthcare services made affordable. Moreover, breaking down geographical barriers enable physicians to serve more patients and solve issues relating to limited availability of professionals who can provide quality care.

Data Analytics and Genetics

Celebrities like Angelina Jolie have undergone genetic screening for cancer and then preventive surgery to minimise disease occurrence. This will be the norm as more people realise sick-care burden can be huge.

Through data analytics of a family's medical history, occurrence of chronic diseases such as Familial hypercholesterolemia (FH) and diabetes, neurological disorders like Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's, various forms of cancers can be determined and early measures taken to minimise risks. Similarly, genetic screening for couples planning to have babies can determine risks of developing Thalassemia, autism and other hereditary disorders. Through IVF and selective screened embryo implantation, chances of developing such diseases can be minimised. The latest technology gaining momentum is Crispr gene editing, which helps create pre-designed babies as per the choice of parents.

Being Ahead of the Curve

Digital transformation is set to revolutionise healthcare delivery. It is expected to solve issues deterring wider and affordable access. Healthcare providers who do not evolve with changing times will become extinct. The healthcare technology space is becoming increasing popular with start-ups and SMEs innovating and introducing quick solutions. The opportunity lies in combining forces and introducing innovations that can provide the edge. This rapid shift has encouraged e-commerce giants like Amazon to enter the sector.

As they say, healthcare has just left the building and the only reason for patients to come to a hospital in future will be when they are chronically ill and need to undergo a procedure. Most hospital services will be available on their phones. The focus of healthcare businesses would be sustainability. That can be achieved only when they manage scale of operations with affordability and accessibility.

(The writer is Founder Chairman and MD of Aster DM Healthcare)